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Matthew Barney

(b. 1967)


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(1967– )

American sculptor, Performance artist, draughtsman, and film-maker. His early performance Physical Restraint turned the act of drawing into a kind of endurance test. In this sense he was working in the tradition of earlier Body artists such as Vito Acconci and Chris Burden. He was interested in the idea of hypertrophy, the process whereby the body is actually damaged by exertion in order, ultimately, to make it stronger. His best-known work is a series of five films made between 1994 and 2002, the Cremaster cycle. Although these have been screened in both museums and cinemas, they are only issued complete on DVD in a special limited edition. The title refers to the muscle which controls the raising and lowering of the testicles. One of the themes is sexual differentiation and it is in some way a response to feminist art and theory that a male artist now places sexual difference at the centre of his work. The films are visually exhilarating and also highly confusing. They contain references to legends and Masonic rituals, featuring human oddities and feats of physical prowess. Characters include the magician Harry Houdini and the condemned murderer Gary Gilmore, who may have been Houdini's grandson, and who in the film dies not by firing squad but in a rodeo on a bull. Barney has said that he originally thought of the series of films in terms of their locations, almost a kind of Land art. For instance, the first to be filmed, Cremaster 4, was set on the Isle of Man and constructed around the famous TT motorcycle race. Barney has also made sculpture and this frequently references the Cremaster films, as in The Cabinet of Baby Fay La Foe (2000, MoMA, New York), a vitrine of objects associated with one of the characters.

http://www.tate.org.uk/magazine/issue2/barney.htm Interview with Matthew Barney, Tate Magazine, no. 2, Tate website.

Subjects: Art.


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