Matthew Barney is an influential sculptor, drawer, photographer, installation and performance artist, and filmmaker of international renown.Read More
Barney's feature-length movies and innovative performances and sculptural installations, which examine the physical hardships of sport and its sexual undercurrents to explore the limits of the body, often incorporate highly unorthodox materials such as frozen petroleum jelly, wax, and tapioca and include a cast of humans, animals and machines.
The breadth and complexity of his unpredictable poetic imagination, and the scope of the unconventional technologies he employs, are what make Barney's artistic endeavours so distinctive.
Between 2000 and 2013 Barney is well-known to have been in a relationship with the Icelandic musician Bjork.
Barney lives in New York with studios in Queens and the Sawtooth Mountains.
Barney was raised in California and then Idaho, his parents divorcing when he was 12 — his mother (an abstract painter) leaving to live in New York. It was while visiting her that he became interested in art, up until that point, sport having been his dominant passion.
Entering Yale University in Connecticut he won an American football scholarship, and intended to become a plastic surgeon, but he changed his major to art, being allowed—as an undergraduate—to precociously enrol in the graduate programme. He attained a BA in 1989. His thesis project was a performance/installation titled Field Dressing (1989), presented in a gymnasium, which emphasised the fetishisation of the body and was an early indication of a continued fascination with eroticism and the extremes of physicality.
That year he went to New York and participated the following year in group shows at Althea Viafora Gallery. In 1991 Barney had a debut solo exhibition with Barbara Gladstone consisting of performance, video, photographs, drawing, and sculpture. He funded this ambitious project by working as a clothing catalogue model. Looking at muscular growth — how it occurs only through restraint, breakdown, and healing—with its exceptionally wide range of cross-disciplinary references the show attracted much attention.
Matthew Barney's artworks include a series of nineteen Drawing Restraint projects (documented from 1987—present). In his working method, drawings are created to plan his sculptures, installations, photographs, and films, and later, further drawn visual investigations continue after the projects are completed.
The Cremaster cycle of five films (1994—2002)—the point of departure for which is the male cremaster muscle, which controls testicular contractions in response to external stimuli—first revealed Barney's visionary filmmaking skills. Other acclaimed movies include River of Fundament (2014) and Redoubt (2019). Rich in unorthodox narrative, hybridity, and symbolism, involving actors, animals, and machines—and multiple time or geographical zones—they thematically incorporate contemporary novels, music, opera, hunting, crime, and religious ritual.
Presentations of Barney's films, including those as part of the Cremaster cycle, are often co-ordinated with adjacent site-specific installations which include displays in ground-breaking methods of mark-making, metalwork or plastic casting.
Matthew Barney has been the subject of many solo, survey, and group exhibitions.
Recent solo exhibitions (including films but not performances) are: Matthew Barney: After Ruby Ridge, Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin, Germany (2021); Matthew Barney: REDOUBT, Haywood Gallery, London (2021); Matthew Barney: Cosmic Hunt, Sadie Coles HQ, London, England (2020); Matthew Barney: Embrasure, Gladstone 64, New York (2019); Facility of DECLINE, Gladstone Gallery, New York (2016); Matthew Barney: Drawing Restraint, Adam Art Gallery, University of Victoria, Wellington, New Zealand (2016); Matthew Barney: RIVER OF FUNDAMENT, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2015).
Recent Group Exhibitions include: Barney, Schneeman, Shiraga, Tanak, Fergus McCaffrey, New York (2022); American Art 1961-2001: The Walker Art Center Collections from Andy Warhol to Kara Walker, Foundazione Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, Italy (2021); Drawing 2020, Gladstone Gallery, New York (2020); Desire: A Revision from the 20th Century to the Digital Age, IMMA, Dublin (2019).
Selected Awards include: Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award, 54th San Francisco (2011); International Film Festival Kaiser Ring Award, Mönchehaus Museum für moderne Kunst, Goslar, Germany (2007); Glen Dimplex Award, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland (2002); James D. Phelan Art Award in Video, Bay Area Video Coalition, San Francisco Foundation (1999); Hugo Boss Prize, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1996); Europa 2000 Prize, Aperto '93, 45th Venice Biennale (1993).
Collections: Guggenheim Museum, New York; MoMA, New York; Louis Vuitton Foundation, Paris; Harvard Collections, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis; Zabludowicz Collection, London; Tate, London.
John Hurrell | Ocula | 2022