Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)
23 Mar 2006 to 21 May 2006
Sam Taylor-Wood’s solo exhibition formed part of a wider season of exhibitions at the MCA exploring self-portraiture by selected Australian and international artists. Born and based in London, Sam Taylor-Wood is an internationally renowned artist who works across film and photography. Rendered with pathos, her depictions of human emotion and physicality draw upon the history of Western art in their composition and symbolism. From religious iconography to performance and dance, the works in this exhibition test the body’s limits as well as the individual psyche of the subjects portrayed.
Sam Taylor-Wood is an artist for whom the human subject is central. She explores the physical dimension of human experience as well as its more private, emotional side. As British critic Michael Bracewell observed, her art ‘takes its place at the point of contact between psychology and destiny – the twin poles, if you like, of the human condition: how we react to life’s journey’. From feats of physical strength and endurance to moments of introspection and vulnerability, Taylor-Wood’s imagery invites viewers into an indeterminate space in which public and private experience converge.
This exhibition brought together selected photographs and film works for the first time in Australia. Taylor-Wood’s photographs have embraced an expanded, panoramic format as well as a vertical ‘portrait’ format. This exhibition focused on the latter, in which single subjects were presented in mid action or gesture – hovering, tumbling, falling; dancing, sleeping, crying. Three related film projections featured their performers in similar states of activity and release. Taylor-Wood’s static and moving imagery was informed by art-historical reference, religious iconography and the desire for a form of physical or spiritual transcendence. From the image of a young man hovering mid air The Leap 2001 – the first of the artist’s ‘suspended’ works – to that of a man tap-dancing before a prone human form, a dove improbably balanced on his head Ascension 2003, viewers were introduced to a world of imagination and ambiguity.
The private realm of emotion and its expression informs much of Taylor-Wood’s art. She has said, ‘I am interested in how humans respond and react in moments of crisis. I want to examine the physical manifestations of anxiety’. In this exhibition Taylor-Wood presented her large photographic suite Crying Men 2002-04. Featuring 27 male actors in private moments of reflection and catharsis, it presented an intimate, vulnerable portrait of contemporary masculinity while working against public expectations associated with the ‘celebrity’ persona. The video work David 2004, commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery, London, featured a languid David Beckham asleep in his bed – a portrait of this iconic sporting figure that was unprecedented in its intimacy and sensuality.
City Gallery Wellington, New Zealand: 8 October 2006 – 28 January 2007