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Matthew Barney
Barney talking at the Hirshhorn.
Born March 25, 1967 (1967-03-25) (age 42)
San Francisco, California, United States
Nationality United States American
Field Film, Video art, Sculpture, Photography
Training Yale University
Works Cremaster Cycle, Drawing Restraint 9
Awards Hugo Boss Prize

Matthew Barney (born March 25, 1967) is an American artist who works in sculpture, photography, drawing and film. His early works were sculptural installations combined with performance and video. Between 1994 and 2002 he created the Cremaster Cycle, a series of five feature-length films described by Jonathan Jones in The Guardian as "one of the most imaginative and brilliant achievements in the history of avant-garde cinema."[1]



He was born March 25, 1967, in San Francisco, California. He lived in Boise, Idaho from 1973 to 1985 where he attended primary and secondary school. His parents divorced and his mother moved to New York City, where he would frequently visit, and was introduced to the art scene.[2] In 1989, he graduated from Yale University. His earliest works, created at Yale, were staged at the university’s athletic complex. Barney is married to singer Björk, with whom he had a daughter in 2002.[3]

Drawing Restraint (1987 - )

The ongoing Drawing Restraint series was begun in 1987 as a series of studio experiments, drawing upon an athletic model of development in which growth occurs only through restraint: the muscle encounters resistance, becomes engorged and is broken down, and in healing becomes stronger. In literally restraining the body while attempting to make a drawing, Drawing Restraints 1- 6 (1987 - 89) were documented with video and photography. Drawing Restraint 7 marks the influx of narrative and characterization, resulting in a three channel video and series of drawings and photographs, for which Barney was awarded the Aperto prize in the 1993 Venice Biennale. A series of ten vitrines containing drawings, Drawing Restraint 8 was included in the 2003 Venice Biennale and prefigured the narrative development for Drawing Restraint 9 (2005). A major project consisting of a feature-length film with soundtrack composed by Björk, large-scale sculptures, photographs and drawings, Drawing Restraint 9 was built upon themes such as the Shinto religion, the tea ceremony, the history of whaling, and the supplantation of blubber with refined petroleum for oil. Drawing Restraints 10 - 16 (2005 - 07) are site-specific performances that recall the earlier Yale pieces.

The Cremaster Cycle (1994 - 2002)

Barney's epic Cremaster cycle (1994–2002) is a project consisting of five feature-length films that explore processes of creation. His concentration in sculpture is accentuated by his use of video. Barney uses video to perfect his sculpture by evaluating positioning, lighting as well as size and shape, using video as a means to his end product of sculpture [4] Barney’s long-time collaborator Jonathan Bepler composed and arranged the films’ soundtracks. The cycle unfolds not just cinematically, but also through the photographs, drawings, sculptures, and installations the artist produces in conjunction with each episode. Its conceptual departure point is the male cremaster muscle, which controls testicular contractions in response to external stimuli. The project is rife with anatomical allusions to the position of the reproductive organs during the embryonic process of sexual differentiation: Cremaster 1 represents the most "ascended" or undifferentiated state, Cremaster 5 the most "descended" or differentiated. The cycle repeatedly returns to those moments during early sexual development in which the outcome of the process is still unknown—in Barney's metaphoric universe, these moments represent a condition of pure potentiality. As the cycle evolved over eight years, Barney looked beyond biology as a way to explore the creation of form, employing narrative models from other realms, such as biography, mythology, and geology. The photographs, drawings, and sculptures radiate outward from the narrative core of each film installment. Barney's photographs—framed in plastic and often arranged in diptychs and triptychs that distill moments from the plot—often emulate classical portraiture. His graphite and petroleum jelly drawings represent key aspects of the project's conceptual framework.[5]

Performance pieces

Most recently, Barney has explored live performance before an audience. The pieces Ren and Guardian of the Veil revisit the language of the Cremaster Cycle, via a ritualistic exploration of Egyptian symbolism inspired by Norman Mailer's novel Ancient Evenings.

In June 2009, a collaboration between Barney and Elizabeth Peyton, entitled Blood of Two, was performed for the opening of the Deste Foundation's exhibition space, the Slaughterhouse, located on the Greek island Hydra. The two-hour performance involved divers retrieving from a nearby cove a vitrine containing drawings which had been submerged for months. A funeral-like procession of fishermen carried the case up a winding set of stairs. At one point, a dead shark was laid on the case, and the fishermen proceeded to the gallery space, carrying the case and shark, accompanied by the onlookers and a herd of goats. At the Slaughterhouse, the case was opened, water poured out, and the drawings revealed. The shark was eventually cooked and fed to the guests.[6][7]


See also

Barney, Matthew. Cremaster 1. Kunsthalle Wien, Museum für Gegenwartskunst Basel 1997 ISBN 3852470137

Barney, Matthew. Cremaster 2. KWalker Art Center, Minneapolis 1999 ISBN 9780935640649

Barney, Matthew. Cremaster 3. Guggenheim, dist. by D.A.P. 2002. photogs. ISBN 0-89207-253-9.

Barney, Matthew. Cremaster 4. Foundation Cartier, Paris and Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York 1995. Essay by James Lingwood ISBN 978-2869250512

Barney, Matthew. Cremaster 5. Portikus Frankfurt, Germany and Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York 1997. ISBN 9781881616870

"Matthew Barney: The Cremaster Cycle": at the Guggenheim Museum, New York. Catalogue published by Harry N. Abrams; 544 pages;

Barney, Matthew. DRAWING RESTRAINT Volume 1 Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, Köln, Germany 2005 ISBN 0979507707

Barney, Matthew. DRAWING RESTRAINT Volume 2 Uplink Co., Tokyo 2005 ISBN 4900728144

Barney, Matthew. DRAWING RESTRAINT Volume 3 Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul, Korea 2005

Barney, Matthew. DRAWING RESTRAINT Volume 4 JMc & GHB Editions, New York 2007, Matthew Barney, Sammlung-Goetz, Munich 2007 ISBN 0979507707

Barney, Matthew. DRAWING RESTRAINT Volume 5 Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, Köln, Germany 2007 ISBN 3865603181

Notable works

References and notes

  1. ^ Jonathan Jones, The myth-maker, The Guardian, 16 October 2002.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Björk — Biography on IMDB.
  4. ^ The Body as Matrix: Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle. Perf. Matthew Barney. DVD. Films Media Group Co., 2004.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Item idem, "Now Viewing | ‘Blood of Two’" The Moment June 17, 2009 Retrieved on July 13, 2009.
  7. ^ Yablonsky, Linda. "Greek Mythology" Art Forum. June 23, 2009. Retrieved July 13, 2009

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote


Matthew Barney (born 25 March 1967) is an American artist.


  • A lot of my work has to do with not allowing my characters to have an ego in a way that the stomach doesn't have an ego when it's wanting to throw up. It just does it.
    • art:21 interview: "CREMASTER 3—on location at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY" [1]


  • The film moves at what I consider to be the speed of art — which is slow. Cremaster 2 does what I think sculpture does: It moves slowly and requires that one move around it to understand it, and to visit it repeatedly.

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