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sam taylor-wood
sam taylor-wood interview
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Fame vs art at the Baltic.

What do you do when youíre an artist known as much for your fame as for your artwork? Sam Taylor-Wood has always walked this fine line. The photographer and video artist exploded with the other YBAs in the 90s, married Jay Jopling (the owner of the White Cube gallery in Hoxton Square, London) and has spent the rest of her career hanging out and depicting the iconic and infamous. She even created the worldís largest photographic installation, wrapping Selfridges in a giant celeb-filled image.

Still Life and The Last Century (both detail).

Itís a dirty and glamorous reputation to live up to, and often her work struggles to match it. This retrospective at the Baltic shows the past six years of Woodís output. The celebrity-filled pieces have mass appeal. The film of David Beckham sleeping and the series of photographs of crying actors play with our festishistic fascination with fame, highlighting the voyeuristic nature of photography itself.

Wood works best when she explores her medium and art history itself. The Last Century at first resembles a still image of an East End pub full of a modern version of 19th-century absinthe drinkers. Yet a wisp of smoke forces you to realise that everyone is staying still and thatís itís actually a film. Her speeded-up movies of decaying fruit and animals update 17th-century still lifes to hyperreality gothic.

Self Portrait Suspended IV (detail) and Baltic exhibition view.

Yet, at the same time, much of the work fails to connect. Some of the more recent film pieces have the same Emperorís New Clothes feel as Bill Viola. Just as you begin to be annoyed by Wood, however, she forces you to like her. Her recent self-portrait series, Self Portrait Suspended and Bram Stokerís Chair, depict her suspended mid-air like a floating foetus. Thereís something innocent and much more sensitive here than the reputation for fame and excess would like to admit.

Francesca Gavin 25 May 06
Sam Taylor-Wood: Still Lives is at the Baltic, Gateshead, until 03 September 06.
Read members' comments related to this interview.
Sam, a neat therapeutic cul-de-sac post 2
comment by rowan    Jul 11, 2006
Oddly, Piotrr, I think I totally agree.
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Sam, a neat therapeutic cul-de-sac post 1
comment by piotrr    Jul 10, 2006
It's an irritation, her work, for the fame, their pretty looks and the casual, apparently clever things she says about them.
But sometimes, despite myself, I like the gloss, the success (the floating/chair pictures for instance) and that makes her even more irritating. She's got in, under my defenses.
Then I catch myself (aware of my irritation and of liking the work, despite myself) and I find another reason for liking what she does; not this time for the bland, cleverness, but for pushing me into this cul-de-sac. It's where I get a good critical look at my easy judgements; where I can tell myself off for being lazy, but can pat myself on the back for noticing. Perfect! Contradiction and resolution in one, thank you Sam. I don't much like your work, but I do really, sort of, depsite myself.
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