Tracey Emin’s unmade bed sells for £2.5m

Tracey Emin’s “My Bed” has sold at Christie’s for £2.5m, achieving a world record price for the artist at auction.

Ms Emin, 50, sat in the front of the packed salesroom as her 1998 piece surged from the opening bid of £650,000 to the final price of £2.5m – more than double the expected price.

One of the best known pieces to come out of the Young British Artists movement of the 1990s, the work displays the artist’s unmade bed surrounded by all kinds of personal detritus – empty vodka bottles, cigarette butts, underwear and condoms.

The bed was presented as it had been when she had stayed in it for several days feeling suicidal because of a relationship breakdown. Encapsulating Emin’s work exploring the relationship between her life and her art, it caused a furore when it was shortlisted for the Tate’s Turner Prize in 1999, prompting public debate about the nature of contemporary art.

It divided the critics but helped make her one of the country’s most famous living artists.

The artwork was sold by Charles Saatchi, the collector and advertising executive – an early supporter of Emin and other modern British artists – who had bought the piece in 2000.

The proceeds from its sale will benefit the Saatchi Gallery’s foundation, Christie’s said.

The auction house did not identify the buyer, but its head of contemporary art, Francis Outred, hinted it was an institution.

Mr Outred told a press conference after the sale: “We can’t announce it but I think it is going to end up somewhere important so watch this space for an announcement.”

Ms Emin, who was made a CBE in the New Year Honours list in 2012, was said to be delighted. Speaking at Christie’s last week, she said she still stood by her work which “changed people’s perceptions of art”.

The sale was part of an auction of postwar and contemporary art that raised a total of £99.4m. The top lot of the sale was Francis Bacon’s “Study for Head of Lucian Freud” that sold for £11.5m. This came from the estate of the children’s author Roald Dahl.

Works by seven of the artists on sale achieved record prices at auction, including Peter Doig, Tracey Emin, Jean Dubuffet and Michelangelo Pistoletto.

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