By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Cremaster 3 possesses many of the populist elements that assured the success of classic drive-in fare: zombies, giants, cheetah girls, mobsters, demolition derbies, buff young bodies in bitchen fashions, awesome SFX makeup, slapstick, gore, and rock & roll. It also brings to a spectacular completion one of the most complex, generous and subversive artworks of the last decade.
Since the rise of Andy Warhol, artists have wanted to be rock stars. Unfortunately, most artists take this too literally, and wind up embarrassing themselves by making either lame rock music or fawning groupie art. The only artist who’s come close to the necessary mixture of youth, glamour, overt sexuality, and dazzling candy for the senses is Matthew Barney, the 36-year-old sculptor–performance artist–filmmaker with the massive retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, a recently completed five-part cinematic bildungsroman, “The Cremaster Cycle,” and a 6-month-old daughter with one of the few rock stars to successfully approximate being an artist — BjÃ¶rk. In spite of the high degree of celebrity charisma at play in Barney’s life and art — he was a high school quarterback and a J. Crew/Ralph Lauren fashion model while a student at Yale — the general public has been slow to tweak to Barney’s peculiar brand of glam.Photo by Max S. Gerber
With only a two-week engagement at a single Los Angeles venue — the Nuart — before they disappear back into the murky depths of the art world, how best to spark the public’s interest in Barney’s gorgeous, kinky movies? Perhaps by cataloging the erotic fetishes on display in Cremaster 3, the final installment in his made-out-of-sequence cycle: In addition to such run-of-the-mill objects of paraphilial obsession as hair, shoes, car crashes, furry animal costumes, assorted bodily orifices, baby clothes, and amputated limbs, as well as his longstanding personal interests in plaid, Vaseline and braiding, Barney manages — over the course of three hours — to eroticize potatoes, dental trauma, rotting horseflesh, and the architecture of the Chrysler Building and the Guggenheim Museum. It’s a something-for-everyone kind of experience.
But don’t rush to the theater expecting a Russ Meyer–style child’s garden of perversities. Although Barney’s color palette is frequently reminiscent of that softcore auteur’s hypersaturated visual style, the similarities end there. For one thing, Meyer’s rapid-fire cutting packs in about 10,000 edits for each one of Barney’s. The same ratio holds true for verbiage: Cremaster 3’s single word of spoken dialogue (excluding Gaelic song lyrics and hardcore punks chanting Masonic rituals) occurs just before the two-and-a-half-hour mark — and it’s not in English. And of course there’s no actual sex. Are you sold yet? Maybe I should repeat the introductory comments made by a publicity drone at the press screening I attended: “You may notice a high-pitched electronic screeching during the first 40 minutes or so. That is intentional. We’ve had some audience members who couldn’t take it, but if you have to get up and leave, please just hang around the lobby for a few minutes and check back in, because it does end.”Aimee Mullins, with Barney
While he is probably the contemporary art world’s biggest star, Barney doesn’t seem to inspire a lot of confidence in his potential for crossover success — after this opportunity to see “The Cremaster Cycle,” interested parties will have to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars for the limited-edition video. (The first installment — Cremaster 4 — sold in an edition of 10 at 200 G’s a pop in 1995!) Which is a pity, because Cremaster 3 possesses many of the populist elements that assured the success of classic drive-in fare: zombies, giants, cheetah girls, mobsters, demolition derbies, buff young bodies in bitchen fashions, awesome SFX makeup, slapstick, gore, and rock & roll. It also brings to a spectacular completion one of the most complex, generous and subversive artworks of the last decade.
Barney’s meteoric ascension to koi fish in the art-world guppy farm began during his undergraduate years at Yale. The son of a Boise, Idaho, food-services businessman and an abstract painter, he paid his way through college with modeling fees. Barney’s schoolwork — a bizarre blend of references to jock culture, cross-dressing and formalist art — created a buzz, first in the influential Yale graduate community, then in Manhattan. Shortly after his 1991 solo debut (at Regen Projects in L.A.), he was featured on the cover of Artforum and almost instantaneously anointed, at the age of 24, as the polymorphously perverse savior of the deflated post-’80s art scene. That’s quite a load to be saddled with, but Barney — no stranger to hubris — rose to the occasion. Producing startling installations and video works for the 1992 version of the influential German artfest Dokumenta and the 1993 Whitney and Venice biennials dealing with up-to-the-minute themes like gender, biological sciences and narcissism in a formal visual language that was as accomplished as it was idiosyncratic, Barney swept across the crabby academic art world like a tidal wave of pent-up kundalini juice.
Shaving, coloring and dippity-dooing his hair, dressed in rock-climbing gear, wedding dresses or garish men’s fashions, prosthetically altered to be a goat-man or satyr, Barney inserted himself into his art in a way more compelling and artificial than anyone before. His sculptures employed such unlikely materials as refrigerated Vaseline, cast tapioca, self-lubricating plastic and human chorionic gonadotropin, and he always left room for himself to perform some vigorous athletics. (The finished pieces usually included videos of Barney clambering through his installations.) The following year he embarked on the project that was to consume the better part of a decade and bring him a whole new unexpected audience: the impossibly ambitious “Cremaster Cycle,” consisting of drawings, photographs, sculptural objects and installations — and five increasingly elaborate, mythically charged motion pictures.Richard Serra as the master architect
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