Matthew Barney works across sculpture, photography, drawing and film, often developing singular pieces over a number of years. He began his Drawing Restraint series in 1987, releasing a film, Drawing Restraint 9, set on an Icelandic whaling ship and starring his then partner, Björk, in 2005. Barney is best known for his hugely ambitious CREMASTER series (1994-2002), five self-written and self-directed feature length films made in nonsequential order. Named after the muscles that control the rise and fall of the male testes, the films investigate the rituals and eroticism of sport – reflecting Barney’s own past as an athlete – and the power of belief systems and architecture.
Barney weaves together idiosyncratic narratives encompass everything from Celtic myth and the TT races on the Isle of Man, to the Art Deco Chrysler Building skyscraper in New York, and even feature sculptor Richard Serra as a grand masonic master. The sets and costumes, full of baroque detail and stylistic clashes, are as much the central focus as the characters. Americana, tartan, Modernist architecture and Renaissance opulence coexist in new hybrid compositions that seem to be in dialogue with high fashion as much as the supposedly more serious contemporary art lexicon. Many of the props are coated in Vaseline, and Barney extends this into the photographic and sculptural pieces related to CREMASTER. Still images of protagonists or objects are displayed in shaped acrylic fames, some of which are self-lubricating, such as CREMASTER 4: T L: IRISH SEA, 1994. These photographic works feel icons, albeit venerating saints of a mysterious and hybrid denomination.