It’s Sunday afternoon. The phone goes. I pick it up, expecting the usual oily voice from Delhi trying to get me to change insurers, but instead I hear a delirious Sam Taylor-Wood babbling away in all directions, like a river that’s broken its banks. Straining to catch her drift, I just about make out the words “big fight”, “incredible” and “so exciting”. It sounds promising. So I shout back into the babble that I will call her on a land line, then hit the info button that throws up her number.
It turns out that Taylor-Wood is in Berlin, where she has just watched Vitali Klitschko taking on Peter Samuel for the WBC heavyweight championship of the world. Or was it Samuel Peter? She can’t remember.
She’s new to boxing. What she does recall, vividly, is how dramatic and sweaty it was. Vitali was all over his opponent, battering him so relentlessly that poor Samuel refused to come out for the eighth round. Or was it the ninth? Afterwards, she fought her way through the many layers of hangers-on who were clamouring to touch the new champ and pushed him into his dressing room, as agreed, where she instructed him to sit still for three minutes while she filmed him. Vitali closed his eyes and did exactly as he was told.
Earlier this year, she had done the same thing to his brother, Wladimir Klitschko, the current IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight champion of the world, who was boxing at Madison Square Garden, in New York. The two films of these gigantic Ukrainians will eventually be shown side by side in a diptych called 3 Minute Round. Taylor-Wood is not the kind of woman you would expect to be interested in boxing, so I ask what she hopes to express here. Magically, the phone line grows clear as a bell and I hear her answer perfectly: “The stillness of these great giants. It’s so beautiful.”
A couple of days before, I too had gone a few rounds with Taylor-Wood in her studio, a converted factory located in the Brit Art corridor of London’s East End, where she has effected the usual minimal transformation her generation insists on, involving stainless steel and granite. Pet Shop Boys have their offices downstairs. I am ushered into the sparser of her urban hangars and offered the choice of the black settees with which the room is furnished. Vinyl or leather? I go for the leather, because it is more conducive to rumination and because Taylor-Wood currently needs plenty of thinking about.
The week before we met, news leaked out that she had split up with her husband of 11 years, the elegant and ubiquitous Jay Jopling, creator of the White Cube Gallery. Normally, none of us would give a Damien Hirst dot for such a break-up – who in the art world these days has the balls to stick out a marriage? – but in their case it was surprising. They were one of the capital’s golden couples, seen together at every fashionable opening, he with his endearing Jerry Lewis grin, she with her impeccable sense of what to wear in the company of Elton or Kate or Sadie. I had them down as stayers. Then, at the opening of Statuephilia, the sculpture exhibition I have just curated at the British Museum, I asked a well-known British sculptor what had really happened between Taylor-Wood and Jopling. “Sam,” he sighed, rolling his eyes pessimistically upwards, “got too close to the movie world.” He saw no hope for her.