Emin takes her place among the greats of British art as Tate dedicates room to her work

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Her critics may dismiss her as a colourful party girl who had a troubled childhood in Margate. But the Tate has no doubts that Tracey Emin deserves a place among the greats of British art - and has dedicated a room to her work to prove it.

Her critics may dismiss her as a colourful party girl who had a troubled childhood in Margate. But the Tate has no doubts that Tracey Emin deserves a place among the greats of British art - and has dedicated a room to her work to prove it.

The gallery has bought eight works spanning the past decade of Emin's career to supplement the sparse collection of her bold and intensely personal art that it has held up until now.

They went on public display yesterday alongside galleries at Tate Britain dedicated to other British greats, from William Blake and Francis Bacon to the living artists Richard Long and Patrick Caulfield.

Gregor Muir, a curator of the Tate collections, said there was no doubt that Emin, 40, deserved her place among the artists honoured in the gallery, which tells the story of British art from 1500 to the present day. "It would be difficult to discuss the British art of the last 10 or 15 years without mention of artists such as Tracey Emin. Furthermore, there's clearly a generation of young British artists who came to the fore through the 1990s who I would suggest are landmark figures in the history of British art in general," he said.

"It is interesting, for instance, to see the Francis Bacon display presently on at Tate which shows the gilded gutter life, as it were, and to see Emin's work next door which is equally autobiographical in relaying some of the horror of life and the mundane realities of life."

The Tate had previously owned only two major Emin video works and 11 works on paper which had been given as gifts. "Tate has a responsibility to inform its audiences about who was important when. We felt very much we needed to improve our holdings," Mr Muir said.

The gallery held talks with Emin to secure works, showing the progress of her art from the past decade, for an undisclosed sum.

One is a recent appliqué piece called Hate and Power can be a Terrible Thing which criticises women who inflict harm on others and includes an implicit attack on Margaret Thatcher for sending the armed forces to war in the Falklands.

Another, dating from 10 years ago, is called Exploration of the Soul and comprises a handwritten account, spread across 34 panels, of Emin's school years in Margate and the events leading up to a sexual assault at the age of 13.

The earliest work is May Dodge/My Nan from 1993, an affectionate piece about the artist's grandmother which contains handwritten text, photographs from the family album and her grandmother's handmade lavender bag.

Emin, who has used her own experience of depression, abortion, bereavement, alcoholism and sex in her work, helped to hang the gallery which is now open to the public. Of Tate's decision to buy and display her works, she said: "I had to pinch myself because I'm still alive. I'm here to celebrate it."

Karen Wright, editor of Modern Painters magazine, said she believed Emin was a fantastic artist. "It pisses me off when uneducated people don't understand what she's doing and launch diatribes against her. She's an iconic persona and a terrific artist," Ms Wright said.

"She's got a high profile and she's successful and English people hate success so she's tarred with this ridiculous brush. But she's a very sensitive artist. I've been more moved by some of her pieces than by a lot of more conservative artists. I don't necessarily mean by her iconic pieces like her tent or her bed. But some of her film pieces are quite extraordinary and her drawings are very touching."

The Tate has a constant struggle to maintain its collections, given the high prices in the marketplace, partly driven in the case of contemporary art by hugely wealthy collectors such as Charles Saatchi. "There's an assumption that the Tate is able to go out and acquire a great many incredibly expensive works but that isn't always the case," Mr Muir said.

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