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Matthew Barney

Matthew Barney
Matthew Barney (2007)
Born (1967-03-25) March 25, 1967
San Francisco, California, United States
Nationality American
Education Yale University
Known for Film, video art, sculpture, photography
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 are sculptural installations combined with performance and video. Between 1994 and 2002 he created the The Cremaster Cycle, a series of five 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 is also known for his past relationship with the singer Björk.


  • Life and career 1
  • Works 2
    • Drawing Restraint (1987–present) 2.1
    • The CREMASTER Cycle (1994–2002) 2.2
    • River of Fundament (2006–2014) 2.3
    • Performance 2.4
  • Exhibitions 3
  • Critical analysis 4
  • Awards and prizes 5
  • Art market 6
  • Publications 7
  • References and notes 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10

Life and career

Matthew Barney was born March 25, 1967,[2] as the younger of two children in San Francisco, California, where he lived until he was 7.[3] He lived in Boise, Idaho from 1973 to 1985, where his father got a job administering a catering service at Boise State University[4] and where he attended elementary, middle, and high school. His parents divorced and his mother, an abstract painter,[4] moved to New York City, where he would frequently visit. It was there where he was first introduced to the art scene.[5]

Barney was recruited by Yale University in 1985 to play football and planned to go into pre-med, but he also intended to study art.[3] In 1989, he graduated from Yale. His earliest works, created at Yale, were staged at the university’s Payne Whitney Gymnasium. In the 1990s Barney moved to New York, where he worked as a catalog model, a career that helped him finance his early work as an artist. In 2002, Barney had a daughter with his then partner, the singer Björk,[6] with whom he lived in a penthouse co-op in Brooklyn Heights.[7] As of September 2013, Barney and Björk are no longer a couple; Björk chronicles the breakup in her 2015 album Vulnicura.[8]

Barney maintains a studio in Long Island City, Queens.[9]


Drawing Restraint (1987–present)

The ongoing Drawing Restraint series began 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 Restraint 1–6 (1987–89) were documentations made using video and photography. Drawing Restraint 7 marks the influx of narrative and characterization, resulting in a three channel video and a 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 and 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. A full-scale survey of Barney's work through Drawing Restraint 9 was held at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2006 and included over 150 objects of varying media.[10] Drawing Restraint 10 – 16 (2005–07) are site-specific performances that recall the earlier Yale pieces.

Drawing Restraint 17 and 18 were performed at the Schaulager in Basel in 2010 in conjunction with the exhibition "Prayer Sheet with the Wound and the Nail," a survey of the Drawing Restraint series through Drawing Restraint 18.[11]

Drawing Restraint 19 employs a skateboard as a drawing tool. A block of graphite is mounted beneath the skateboard deck on the front end of the board. A skater performs a nose manual (a wheelie on the nose of the board, leaning in the direction of movement) across a smooth surface, tipping the nose of the board forward and leaving behind a drawn graphite line. The piece was part of a benefit art show and auction titled "Good Wood Exhibit", raising awareness and funds for a Do-It-Yourself skate park project in Detroit, Michigan. The board was purchased by People Skate and Snowboard and it is displayed at their only location in Keego Harbor, Michigan.[12]

The CREMASTER Cycle (1994–2002)

Barney's epic The 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, size and shape, using video as a means to his end product of sculpture.[13] Barney’s long-time collaborator Jonathan Bepler[14] 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.[15]

The Walker Art Center is the only American institution to own the entire CREMASTER Cycle.[16]

River of Fundament (2006–2014)

Barney's most recent work takes the form of a seven-act opera and is loosely based on Norman Mailer’s novel Ancient Evenings.[17] In collaboration with composer Jonathan Bepler, Barney combines traditional modes of narrative cinema with filmed elements of performance, sculpture, and opera, reconstructing Mailer’s hypersexual story of Egyptian gods and the seven stages of reincarnation, alongside the rise and fall of the American car industry.

Barney replaced the human body with the body of the 1967 Chrysler Imperial that was the central motif from his earlier film Cremaster 3.[17] The film’s central scene is an abstraction of Mailer’s wake, set in a replica of the late author’s apartment in Brooklyn Heights and featuring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Paul Giamatti, Elaine Stritch, Ellen Burstyn, Peter Donald Badalamenti II, Joan La Barbara, and jazz percussionist Milford Graves.


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. Guardian of the Veil took place on July 12, 2007 at the Manchester International Festival in England. REN took place on May 18, 2008 in Los Angeles. His most recent performance, KHU, the second part in his seven-part performance series in collaboration with Jonathan Bepler inspired by Ancient Evenings took place on October 2, 2010 in Detroit.[18]

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.[19][20]


Following his inclusion in various group shows at Althea Viafora gallery in New York in 1990,[4] Barney's solo debut in 1991 at the documenta 9 in Kassel (1992); the 1993 and 1995 Biennial exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and Aperto ’93 at the 48th Venice Biennale, for which he was awarded the Europa 2000 Prize.[21]

For the season 2000/2001 in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris.[23]

Critical analysis

Barney's work has provoked strong critical reaction, both positive and negative. Barney's work has been compared to such canonical performance artists as Chris Burden and Vito Acconci and arguing that his art is simultaneously a critique and a celebration of commercialism and blockbuster filmmaking. Commenting on the CREMASTER series' enigmatic nature, Alexandra Keller and Frazer Ward write:[24]

The philosopher Arthur C. Danto, well known for his work on aesthetics, has praised Barney's work, noting the importance of Barney's use of sign systems such as Masonic mythology.[25]

Others have asserted Barney's works are contemporary expressions of surrealism.[26] In the words of Chris Chang, Barney's Cremaster films, though "completely arcane, hermetic and solipsistic ... nevertheless periodically provide some of the most enigmatically beautiful experimental film imagery you'll ever see."[27]

"Is Barney's work a new beginning for a new century?", asks Richard Lacayo, writing in Time. "It feels more like a very energetic longing for a beginning, in which all kinds of imagery have been put to the service of one man's intricate fantasy of return to the womb. Something lovely and exasperating is forever in formation there. Will he ever give birth?"[28]

Barney's work for the 2007 Manchester International Festival received mixed reviews.

"Barney is the real thing. When he brings his boundless imagination to a subject he goes down to its depths to create images and implant ideas that stay in your mind for ever" writes Richard Dorment in the Telegraph.[29]

Awards and prizes

Art market

Barney earns back the cost of his films (the production costs furnished by his primary dealer, Barbara Gladstone) through sales of limited editions of his sculptures, photographs, and drawings. There are private buyers for his work, but it has traditionally been the big museums that compete for his installations.[4] Aside from Gladstone, the artist is also represented by Regen Projects, Los Angeles, and Sadie Coles HQ, London.


  • Kirk, Kara. Matthew Barney: New Work. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, 1991. ISBN 0-918471-23-0.
  • Wakefield, Neville, and Richard Flood. Pace Car for the Hubris Pill. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1995. ISBN 90-6918-148-7.
  • Barney, Matthew. CREMASTER 4. Foundation Cartier, Paris and Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York, 1995. ISBN 978-2-86925-051-2.
  • Kertess, Klaus. Matthew Barney: DRAWING RESTRAINT Volume 7. Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern, Germany, 1996. ISBN 978-3893227921.
  • Barney, Matthew. CREMASTER 1. Kunsthalle Wien, Museum für Gegenwartskunst Basel, Basel, 1997. ISBN 3-85247-013-7.
  • Barney, Matthew. CREMASTER 5. Portikus, Frankfurt, and Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York, 1997. ISBN 978-1-881616-87-0.
  • Flood, Richard, and Matthew Barney. CREMASTER 2. Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1999. ISBN 978-0-935640-64-9.
  • Barney, Matthew. CREMASTER 3. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Distributed Art Publishers, Inc., 2002. ISBN 0-89207-253-9.
  • Barney, Matthew. Matthew Barney/The CREMASTER Cycle. Meeting House Square, Temple Bar, Dublin, 2002.
  • Spector, Nancy, and Neville Wakefield. Matthew Barney: The CREMASTER Cycle. Guggenheim Museum Publications and Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 2002. ISBN 0-8109-6935-1.
  • Kvaran, Gunnar B., and Nancy Spector. Matthew Barney: The CREMASTER Cycle. Astrup Fearnley Museet for Moderne Kunst, Oslo, 2003. ISBN 978-8291430379.
  • McKee, Francis, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Matthew Barney. DRAWING RESTRAINT Volume 1. Walther König, Cologne, 2005. ISBN 0-9795077-0-7.
  • Hasegawa, Itsuko, and Shinichi Nakagawa. DRAWING RESTRAINT Volume 2. Uplink Co., Tokyo, 2005. ISBN 4-900728-14-4.
  • Barney, Matthew. DRAWING RESTRAINT Volume 3. Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul, 2005. ISBN 89-85468-34-0.
  • Barney, Matthew. DRAWING RESTRAINT Volume 4. JMc & GHB Editions, New York and Sammlung-Goetz, Munich, 2007. ISBN 978-0-9795077-0-0.
  • Wakefield, Neville. DRAWING RESTRAINT Volume 5. Walther König, Cologne, 2007. ISBN 978-3-86560-318-0.
  • Barney, Matthew. Matthew Barney. Mönchehaus Museum für Moderne Kunst, Goslar, Germany, 2007.
  • Barney, Matthew, Karsten Löckemann, and Stephan Urbaschek. Matthew Barney. Kunstverlag Ingvild Goetz, Munich, 2007. ISBN 978-3-939894-09-4.
  • Barney, Matthew, and Olga Gambari. Matthew Barney: mitologie contemporanee. Fondazione Merz, Turin, 2009. ISBN 978-88-7757-235-6.
  • Cook, Angus. Matthew Barney and Elizabeth Peyton: Blood of Two. Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art, Greece, Walther König, Cologne, 2009. ISBN 978-9609931403
  • Barney, Matthew. DRAWING RESTRAINT Volume 6. Schaulager/Laurenz Foundation, Basel, 2010.
  • Barney, Matthew. Matthew Barney: KHU Playbill. Barney Studio, New York, 2010.
  • Barney, Matthew. Matthew Barney: Prayer Sheet with the Wound and the Nail. Schaulager, Switzerland, and Schwabe Verlag Basel, Basel, 2010. ISBN 978-3796527067
  • Barney, Matthew. Matthew Barney: DJED Playbill, Gladstone Gallery, New York, 2011.

References and notes

  1. ^ Jonathan Jones, The myth-maker, The Guardian, 16 October 2002.
  2. ^ "Matthew Barney".  
  3. ^ a b c Kristine McKenna (November 20, 1994), This Boise Life, or Hut Hut Houdini Los Angeles Times.
  4. ^ a b c d Michael Kimmelman (October 10, 1999), The Importance of Matthew Barney New York Times Magazine.
  5. ^ Matthew Barney Biography. Retrieved on 2011-02-28.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Nitsuh Abebe (February 26, 2012), Björk’s Big Bang New York Magazine
  8. ^ Pareles, Jon (22 January 2015). "A Heart Broken and Dissected Björk’s ‘Vulnicura,’ From Deep Within". New York Times (New York). Retrieved 22 January 2015. 
  9. ^ Adrian Searle (June 16, 2014), Matthew Barney: 'My work is not for everyone' The Guardian.
  10. ^ Matthew Barney: Drawing Restraint at SFMOMA.
  11. ^ "Matthew Barney: Prayer Sheet with the Wound and the Nail". 2010-10-03. Retrieved 2013-06-07. 
  12. ^ "Matthew Barney's graphite skateboard". PHAIDON club. Retrieved 2013-01-15. 
  13. ^ The Body as Matrix: Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle. Perf. Matthew Barney. DVD. Films Media Group Co., 2004.
  14. ^ "". Retrieved 2013-06-07. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ Quartet: Barney, Gober, Levine, Walker, April 17, 2005 – November 5, 2006 Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.
  17. ^ a b c Matthew Barney: Ancient Evenings: Libretto, March 20 - May 9, 2009 Gladstone Gallery, Brussels.
  18. ^ "Matthew Barney's Heart of Darkness". The Brooklyn Rail. 
  19. ^ Item idem, "Now Viewing | ‘Blood of Two’" The Moment June 17, 2009 Retrieved on July 13, 2009.
  20. ^ Yablonsky, Linda. "Greek Mythology" Art Forum. June 23, 2009. Retrieved July 13, 2009
  21. ^ a b Matthew Barney Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
  22. ^ "Safety Curtain 2000/2001", museum in progress, Vienna.
  23. ^ Carol Vogel (February 28, 2013), Matthew Barney Heads to the Morgan Library New York Times.
  24. ^ Keller, Alexandra; Ward, Frazer (Winter 2006), "Matthew Barney and the Paradox of the Neo-Avant-Garde Blockbuster", Cinema Journal 45 (2): p3–16,  
  25. ^  
  26. ^ Leigh, Bobbie; Ward, Frazer (June 2005), "New Look at Surrealism", Art & Antiques 28 (6): p3–16 
  27. ^ Chang, Chris (July–Aug 2003), "Cremaster 3", Film Comment 39 (4): p75 
  28. ^ Lacayo, Richard (2003-03-03), "The Strange Sensation", Time 161 (9) 
  29. ^ Dorment, Richard (2007-07-17), "A triumph of shock and awe", Telegraph 
  30. ^ 'Hugo Boss Prize website'. Retrieved 31 January 2010.
  31. ^ "Matthew Barney The Goslar Kaiser Ring 2007". 1967-03-25. Retrieved 2013-06-07. 
  32. ^ "". Retrieved 2013-06-07. 

Further reading

  • Riley, Robert R. "The Expanse of Energy," in Matthew Barney: New Work. exh. cat. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1991. ISBN 0-918471-23-0
  • Bryson, Norman. "Matthew Barney's Gonadotrophic Cavalcade," Parkett, No. 45, 1995, pp. 29–35. ISBN 3-907509-95-1
  • Onfray, Michel. "Mannerist Variations on Matthew Barney," Parkett, No. 45, 1995, pp. 50–57. ISBN 3-907509-95-1
  • Seward, Keith. "Matthew Barney and Beyond," Parkett, No. 45, 1995, pp. 58–60. ISBN 3-907509-95-1
  • Goodeve, Thyrza Nichols. "Matthew Barney 95 Suspension [Cremaster] Secretion [pearl] Secret [biology]," Parkett, No. 45, 1995, pp. 67–69. ISBN 3-907509-95-1
  • Ulrich-Obrist, Hans. Interview with Matthew Barney in DRAWING RESTRAINT Volume 1. Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, Köln, Germany 2005, pp. 87–91. ISBN 0-9795077-0-7.
  • Spector, Nancy. "in potentia: Matthew Barney and Joseph Beuys" in All in the Present Must Be Transformed: Matthew Barney and Joseph Beuys. exh. cat. Deutsche Guggenheim, dist. by D.A.P. 2006. ISBN 0-89207-355-1
  • Keller, Alexandra, and Frazer Ward. "Matthew Barney and the Paradox of the Neo-Avant-Garde Blockbuster", Cinema Journal, 45, No. 2, Winter 2006, pp. 3–16.
  • Wakefield, Neville. "Matthew Barney. Prayer Sheet with the Wound and the Nail" in Matthew Barney: Prayer Sheet with the Wound and the Nail. exh. cat. Schaulager, Basel, 2010. pp. 8–16. ISBN 978-3-7965-2707-4
  • Phillips, Adam. "Adam Phillips and Matthew Barney: A Conversation" in Matthew Barney: Prayer Sheet with the Wound and the Nail. exh. cat. Schaulager, Basel, 2010. pp. 18–42. ISBN 978-3-7965-2707-4
  • McClure, Michael Jay. "Queered Cinema: Film, Matter, and Matthew Barney." Discourse, Volume 32, Number 2, Spring 2010, pp. 150–169.
  • Barney, Matthew. "Matthew Barney: DRAWING RESTRAINT Volume 2," Whitney Biennial 2010 exhibition catalog, Whitney Museum of American Art, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2010.

External links

  • The Cremaster Cycle Web Site
  • The Drawing Restraint Web Site
  • Cremaster Fanatic – The Matthew Barney Fan Site
  • Gladstone Gallery
  • Matthew Barney at the Internet Movie Database
  • Matthew Barney on Artabase
  • The Road to Art Fame: An examination of two artists, how they got where they got, and whether that's a good thing, by Susan Kruglinski – examination of Barney's career, comparing it with that of Julian Schnabel
  • Matthew Barney at the Guggenheim
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