City Gallery City Gallery Wellington

Past exhibition

Sam Taylor-Wood

8 October 2006–28 January 2007

CURATOR Rachel Kent ORGANISER Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney OTHER VENUE Museum of Contemporary Art, 23 March–21 May 2006

Sam Taylor-Wood is one of the YBAs—the ‘Young British Artists’ that emerge in the late 1980s and early 1990s. She gains recognition for her multi-channel video installations like Killing Time (1994), in which bored strangers lip-synch lines from an opera, and Atlantic (1997), showing a woman crying in a crowded restaurant. Such works gain her a Turner Prize nomination in 1998. 

This show features photos and single-channel videos.

Taylor-Wood made the photo Self-Portrait in Single-Breasted Suit with Hare (2001) after her mastectomy. The hare is a traditional symbol of vitality and desire, and a nod to the artist’s hair loss during chemotherapy. Her photo series, Falling (2003), catches athletic human bodies in spectacular mid-air poses. 

The heart of the show, however, is Taylor-Wood’s latest photo series, Crying Men (2002–4). In contrast with more familiar depictions of masculinity, it presents twenty-seven Hollywood name actors crying for her camera. They include Gabriel Byrne, Hayden Christensen, Daniel Craig, Willem Dafoe, Benicio Del Toro, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Gambon, Ed Harris, Dustin Hoffman, Jude Law, and Sean Penn. Whether their tears are authentic or an act can’t be known—which seems to be the point.

The videos include Brontosaurus (1995) and David (2004). In Brontosaurus, a naked man dances to techno music. But, the footage is slowed down and the music replaced with Samuel Barber's 'Adagio for Strings'. David documents footballer David Beckham asleep—a Warholesque study of male vulnerability. It was commissioned by London’s National Portrait Gallery.

Like other YBAs, Taylor-Wood is famous, a celebrity herself. Her interest in celebrity is self-conscious, however her name-dropping risks bathos. As Mark Amery writes in the Dominion Post, the artist’s ‘attempts to express inner states feels hollow … The ballet dancing, prancing, and tap dancing of it all serves to emphasise how wrung out of meaning the figurative has become … In Crying Men, however, the very fact that these are men who are hollow and manipulative by profession but are asked to make that make-up crack … nicely ups the stakes.’

Commissioned as a response to Taylor-Wood’s show, Rachael Rakena’s night-vision video Goliath (2006) screens in the Gallery’s window space, Square2. Documenting an anonymous sleeping man, it's an antidote to Taylor-Wood’s David. Rakena says her ‘sleeping giant caught with his guard down by a prying camera’ might offer ‘something somehow more “real”’.