A different class of bond

Damien Hirst's agent has bought into Tracey Emin. Should you?
Would you buy a pounds 150 bond from this woman? The City-style pinstripe jacket she is wearing belongs not to her but to a friend and she has a hangover, having spent the night at the dogs in Catford then at a party that lasted until 3am.

This is Tracey Emin, artist. The limited issue of 150 bonds - her second in two years - consists of five-minute videotapes showing her and her father splashing about in the sea off Cyprus. The "Official Bond Form" assures applicants that the videotape "concentrates on the beautiful things of this world".

You can order a video, complete with stamped certificate - cheques payable to Tracey Emin - from her museum, situated between a caff and a hairdresser's near Waterloo station. This is the Tracey Emin Museum, dedicated to the life and art of Tracey Emin and, according to a notice in the window, "the perfect place to grow".

Here, where she is chief exhibit, curator and cleaner, mementos of her childhood are for sale, such as a framed floral-pattern applique elephant, the first thing she ever sewed, aged six - so far unsold at pounds 3,500. Not all the beautiful things in her world, it seems, are sexy enough to lure big spenders.

The artwork that has raised most column inches is her tent titled Everyone I Have Slept With, 1963-1995. It has 96 names sewn inside - 102 if you include a family of four. They include "Chris?", her parents and the two foetuses she had aborted.

Those foetuses are a jaw-dropper in her stage monologues - stream-of- consciousness in which she goes on about her school days, sleeping with lots of men, getting drunk, living in squats, going boating with her father in Cyprus, and sleeping with lots of men.

For her performance in Stockholm last year, she stripped naked in a room viewed through a spy-hole, painted pictures including one showing her being mounted from the rear, captioned If I have to be honest, I'd rather not be painting, and pegged her bra and knickers on to a clothes line.

So, fancy investing in a Tracey Emin Bond? Or does a unit trust, any unit trust, seem preferable?

Not much doubt, is there? But consider, (and leave your investment analyst out of this): if you had bought her first issue two years ago you would by now have an asset worth 140 per cent more. Those were redeemable bonds costing pounds 500, consisting of spidery abstract drawings on paper bearing the same stamp (little drawings cost pounds 50). They could be redeemed for double their face value in Emin artworks from the moment of purchase - a built-in, instant yield. Yet all the investors have chosen to hang on to them.

The bonds have never been traded, which means that their market value is unknown, but in the past year, similar drawings of hers of the same size have risen in value from pounds 800 to pounds 1,200, the price that Jay Jopling, her agent, got for the two displayed at this month's Art 97 fair in Islington. That's the Jopling of White Cube, leading Nineties gallerist and agent of Damien Hirst, shark and cattle pickler, who has made art by young Brits lucrative throughout the world. Jopling also got pounds 4,750 each for Emin's three pink neon signs in her scrawly handwriting, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Cover My Body in Love.

Then there is her edition of 200 livres d'artiste titled Exploration of the Soul - each concealing within its coy cotton bagthe snappy intro: "Just making love to f***/ Insanely - /And to know it doesn't stop..." She sold newly published copies at pounds 100 in 1994: then, as stocks dwindled, hoicked the price to pounds 120, then pounds 180, pounds 200, pounds 250, pounds 275, pounds 300 and now pounds 350, the price of the remaining eight. She reckons Soul has made her more than pounds 15,000.

The tent, your analyst might be interested to know, was shown in Brilliant! New Art From London, the ground-breaking exhibition of art by young Brits, Hirst included, in Minneapolis in 1995. Emin sold it recently "for thousands".

Small wonder she has never been asked to redeem a bond. Among investors in Emin nest-eggs: Jopling and some of his White Cube artists - Turner prizewinners Damien Hirst and Anthony Gormley and last year's Turner nominee Gary Hume.

Many investors are well-wishers - such as Sandy Nairne, the Tate Gallery's director of public services, who bought a pounds 50 bond (for himself, not the Tate). "I wanted to support her work," he says: "I'm also impressed by the honest and direct way in which she says `Promote me!' "

And next for Emin? Why, this year's Turner prize. She and three of her women chums, Gillian Wearing (video artist who once photographed herself in bed with three naked transvestites), Sarah Lucas (collagist who used to run an art shop with Emin), and Sam Taylor-Wood (Jopling video artist bought by Saatchi), are strongly tipped for nominations.

They have influential allies, not leastWaldemar Januszczak, the arts writer who, as head of arts at Channel 4, successfully lobbied for the resuscitation of the Turner prize after its demise in 1990.

Two months ago, he wrote: "Since the Turner prize is regularly a year out of step, next year's shortlist will be dominated by the women artists who should have featured this time."

He named all four. You can now expect them to be hyped by the media as the female equivalent of Hirst's brat pack. Januszczak has described them as "self-styled Bad Girls", single urbanites who are "pleasure-loving, lippy and aesthetically wild".

To which Emin objects: "We're women, for God's sake. I'm 34." She has a dignity that is surprising in one whose chosen role is revealing intimacies to audiences of strangers. Both Januszczak and Jopling, who met her at a gallery opening during her lonely get-drunk-and-insult-people phase, are melted by her considerable charm.

But Emin knows her art history. The museum devoted to herself is a development of comparable ventures by other artists such as German Dadaist Kurt Schwitters and Belgian conceptualist Marcel Broodthaers. And in her performances she knowingly epitomises the artist-as-artwork, in the tradition of Dali, Warhol, Gilbert and George - and Hirst, whose brat-pack lifestyle is all part of his reputation as an artist.

Equally knowingly, she uses her bonds to fuse art with commerce - a moral and artistic problem that the likes of German junk sculptor Joseph Beuys tried but failed to get to grips with. "A statement?" I ask hesitantly. She does not object. "I see no reason why the spiritual and the material should not go together," she says. "Art has become a currency."

Perhaps you should reach for your investment analyst after all. Or perhaps just your analyst.

Tracey Emin Museum, 221 Waterloo Road, London SE1, (0171-261 1116). Exhibition `I Need Art Like I Need God' at the South London Gallery, 65 Peckham Road, London SE5, 16 April to 18 May. Small multiples, pounds 25-pounds 100, are on sale at the Institute of Contemporary Arts bookshop, 12 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1, (0171-925 2434).

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