Critics’ Picks

Matthew Barney, Cremaster 3: The Five Points of Fellowship, 2002, cast thermoplastic, prosthetic plastic, wrestling mat, rotomolded polyethylene, 71" x 32' x 15'.

Matthew Barney, Cremaster 3: The Five Points of Fellowship, 2002, cast thermoplastic, prosthetic plastic, wrestling mat, rotomolded polyethylene, 71" x 32' x 15'.

Oslo

Matthew Barney

Astrup Fearnley Museet
Strandpromenaden 2
February 26–May 15, 2016

In a famous critique, Friedrich Nietzsche attributed Richard Wagner’s international success to his ability to endow his work with “brutality, artificiality and innocence.” These “great stimulants for exhausted people” can doubtlessly also be found in Matthew Barney’s film works. In the context of this retrospective, “The Cremaster Cycle,” 1994–2002, and Drawing Restraint 9, 2005, are screened together with the artist’s latest River of Fundament, 2014, at the Cinemateket in Oslo. Yet the neutral presentation of objects, which originate from his films, in this museum space emphasizes that Barney’s myth-production is often misunderstood as a Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk. Instead it becomes clear that it has always been documentary, dependent on supplementary material such as photographs, video stills, and explanatory comments.

Indeed, Barney’s works are highly loaded with mythical references. For instance, the magician Harry Houdini, bands like Agnostic Front, and artist Richard Serra appear in the films, referring to American myths in the same way as cars, sports equipment, and famous architectural interiors do throughout his oeuvre. The artist’s obsession with industrially produced yet organic-looking materials dates back to early works such as the series “Facility of Decline,” 1991. Within this exhibition, however, the works appear stripped down to their naked and profane materiality. This is perhaps not only a curatorial accident. If the artist’s most innovative achievement was the integration of established artistic aesthetics and methods into a cinematic, hence spectacular context, a piece like Cremaster 3: The Five Points of Fellowship, 2002, loses its associative potential and quasi-magical attraction when removed from that realm. This may also be caused by the aging of the medium of film, which, compared to the Internet as the central medium of the digital age, has lost its fabled attraction and thus becomes itself an object for museums.