Restraint Order

San Francisco

Left: Matthew Barney and chief fabricator Matt Ryle at The Stud Bar. Right: A guest chats with Björk. (Photos: Gene Hwang)

It was fitting that the opening of “Matthew Barney: Drawing Restraint” took place on the longest day of the year. The expansive show is yet another of Barney’s forays into broad themes and large space. It was also the hottest art event this town has seen in ages.

SF MoMA skews towards themed parties, but rather than “self-discipline,” the museum wisely used Drawing Restraint 9’s Japanese whaling ship to set the tone. The atrium was tricked out with a giant, zen garden-like arrangement of wood chips and twigs and resembled a giant crudité platter; servers circled with shot glasses of miso soup and plates of green-bean tempura. The vibe was surprisingly subdued, despite the star wattage. Barney, Björk, their daughter Isadora (carried in on dad’s shoulders), and a coterie of relatives—dad, stepmom, nephews—moved through the crowds calmly, and the artist graciously fended off the advances of forthright fans.

Rumors were rampant that Björk would perform at the opening, though from her casual demeanor walking through the galleries with friends, it seemed unlikely. She did, however, make a point to check out a short set by local soundmeisters Matmos, with whom she’s previously collaborated.

The exhibition itself scored well, as even the skeptics I polled admitted that the show, which had plenty of breathing room (most gallery walls were expensively removed), looked fabulous. The museum’s theater even received a Dolby sound-system upgrade to accommodate Drawing Restraint 9’s highly tweaked score. More than one person thought that it worked better than the artist’s 2003 Guggenheim extravaganza. Barney himself told me that it had turned out better than he expected—he was a bit concerned that the architecture wouldn’t be conducive to the making of Drawing Restraint 14, in which he scaled the building’s skylight portal to make a wall drawing, dressed as General MacArthur.

Left: Ed Gilbert, director of Gallery Paule Anglim, with SF MoMA trustee Helen Hilton Raiser. Right: Dealer Barbara Gladstone, middle, and Gladstone Gallery director Rosalie Benitez with friend. (Photos: Gene Hwang)

As the galleries filled and the music grew louder, more than a hundred guests retreated to the dinner at the neighboring St. Regis Hotel. All the major Barney supporters unseen at the reception were there. Barbara Gladstone sat at the table of honor, natch, along with SF MoMA director Neal Benezra and collector Dick Kramlich. At tables clustered nearby were Richard Flood, Shaun Caley Regen, the Walker’s Kathy Halbreich, curator Yuko Hasegawa (who originated the exhibition at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan), and Benjamin Weil, who coordinated the San Francisco presentation before taking on the directorship of Artists’ Space in New York.

After typically long-winded remarks from Benezra, Barney gave thanks, especially to Hasegawa and artist Michael Rees, whom he described as an “important influence” before announcing that everyone was invited to an after-party at The Stud, one of the city’s iconic gay night spots. It was an interesting choice, being that Barney’s early, anally fixated works generated a sizable queer fan base, and this, it so happened, was the eve of gay-pride weekend.

Word of the party had spread quickly, and by the time I arrived at the bar, the line stretched half a block. Barney and Björk were in the DJ booth, with throngs of fans clogging the stage to stargaze while Matt Ryle, the artist’s chief fabricator and a major metalhead, loudly indulged his musical taste behind the turntable. The place was as steamy as the exhibition was cool.

Left: 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art curator Yuko Hasegawa (in cage) with Artists' Space director Benjamin Weil. (Photo: Glen Helfand) Right: Collector Rich Silverstein with SF MoMA trustee Carla Emil and collector Byron Meyer. (Photo: Gene Hwang)

Ultimately, the culture clash was less along gay-straight lines (the bar doesn’t have a regular Wednesday crowd), than between art types and young hipsters. I learned later that I’d missed the comical quick entrance and retreat of Benezra and stately trustee Elaine McKeon. Media-arts curators fared better—Weil and curatorial associate Tanya Zimbardo settled in with beer, while Hasegawa got a view of the sound booth from perhaps the most Barneyesque confined space: the disused jail cell-cum-go-go cage.

Left: Artists Tauba Auerbach and Keegan McHargue. (Photo: Gene Hwang) Right: Artist Ari Marcopoulos and sons. (Photo: Glen Helfand)

Left: Leila Yavari with Sophia DeArborne. Right: Arts advocate Stanlee Gatti, SF MoMA trustee Eileen Michael, and collector Preston Butcher. (Photos: Gene Hwang)