PRINT May 2002

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“Matthew Barney: The CREMASTER Cycle,” at Museum Ludwig, Cologne

Originally slated to open this spring at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, “Matthew Barney: The CREMASTER Cycle” begins its run at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne—not quite shabby seconds but a bit of a downer for those in the States looking forward to considering the five-film epic as a whole. After numerous postponements, the outright cancellation of the show, a victim of the Guggenheim’s present financial straits, was widely bruited in art circles and even in the New York Times. Instead, the three-venue tour will “climax” in New York—fittingly, as the final sequences of CREMASTER 3, the longest, last, and arguably most ambitious film in the cycle, were shot in the Guggenheim rotunda, and many of the objects on view in the show are specific to the museum.

CREMASTER 3 displays Barney’s often obscure but compelling vision to great advantage. Clocking some three hours of screen time, it is filled with the sort of ralenti-obsessional passages typical of his cinematic work, but there are also explosions of breathless action—e.g., the artist’s scaling all five tiers of the Guggenheim rotunda, each stratum corresponding to one of the cycle’s films. One level boasts a mosh pit for a crowd of hardcore rowdies; another, a row of Busby Berkeley–ish bathing beauties. Ever the perfectionist, the artist built a replica of the Chrysler Building lobby as a principal set, only to destroy it in one of the final “action-adventure” sequences. Perhaps CREMASTER 3’s most successful coup de théâtre, though, is the casting of Richard Serra as a sadistic dentist/Fountainhead-type megalomaniac architect/(Serra-esque?) sculptor.

The Ludwig show includes all five CREMASTER productions as well as an ample selection of related sculptures, photographs, and drawings. But a number of significant works, those relating to the Guggenheim itself, will be shown at the New York venue only. The films will inevitably enjoy center stage, but according to Guggenheim curator Nancy Spector, who spent some six years planning the show, the exhibition makes a strong case for Barney as a sculptor. Often the sculptural and other “subsidiary” works have been regarded as merely vendible wares whose purpose is to finance further cinematic experiments. “There are so many ways into the cycle, and the films are only the most well known,” Spector comments. “The exhibition will show how narratives can be constructed through other objects as well. Matthew thinks of his work overall, including the films, as a sculptural practice.” —David Rimanelli

CREMASTER 3 premiered in Manhattan May 1 at the Ziegfeld Theater. It will be shown at Film Forum in New York from May 15 to 28.

Museum Ludwig, Cologne, June 5–Sept. 1; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Oct. 10, 2002–Jan. 5, 2003; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Feb. 13, 2003–June 11, 2003.