Known for his elaborate cinematic productions as well as his strenuous performances and sculpture work, Matthew Barney has had a truly meteoric career. CREMASTER 1: Goodyear Chorus is a dazzling physical supplement to one of the artist’s most extravagant undertakings, The Cremaster Cycle. A series of five films, each is more elaborate than the last. Barney himself often plays multiple characters, filling roles as far-reaching as a satyr to a bizarre Masonic initiate. Filmed out of order, the entire suite follows a logic known only to the artist. "The way that I deal with narrative isn't exactly linear. Sometimes it involves feeling something, sometimes it involves presence—in the way that sculpture has presence" (M. Barney, quoted in A. Searle, “Matthew Barney: ‘My work is not for everyone,’”Guardian, June 16, 2014). The present work and photographs, as well as the sculptural props used in the films, make up a diverse collection of peripheral items that bridge the divide between the artist’s work in the gallery and on the screen. Framed in self-lubricating plastic (a substance which factors into the films as well as his larger practice), Barney works to transform moving images into sculptures or something in between.
The way that I deal with narrative isn’t exactly linear. Sometimes it involves feeling something, sometimes it involves presence – in the way that sculpture has presence.”
The Cremaster films as a whole are woven with intricate mythologies, myriad cultural references, and an underlying biological narrative. Taken from the first of Barney’s Cremaster films (though it was the second to be produced), Goodyear Chorus depicts the character Goodyear in the middle of conducting a choral revue. Played by Marti Domination, she holds the reins to two Goodyear blimps that float above her. The woman wears a light blue dress with two hoops that mirrors the orange outfits worn by the performers behind her, all of which are designed by Isaac Mizrahi. The entire production takes place in the Bronco Stadium in Boise, Idaho, the artist’s hometown. The two blimps, visual plays on the ovaries and fallopian tubes, are inhabited by the same character who paradoxically holds them by their tethers. Goodyear exists in equal parts as the anchor and the passengers for each dirigible. Inside, she rearranges red and green grapes into perplexing patterns that are then acted out by the dancers on the field. Barney’s knack for pageantry is on full display as the field fills with regimented performers that move to recreate Goodyear’s cryptic symbols.
Art needs to be defended. It’s fragile. If a work is shown too many times, something gets stolen from it. You come to it with preconceptions, or you get tired of it. And it’s the same with an artist. So I try to protect myself and my work. I want there to be a fraction of the art that even I don’t understand.”
Barney’s infatuation with complex narratives like the one only hinted at in The Goodyear Chorus has been a part of his career from day one. Early performances like the Drawing Restraint series saw him using physical strength and endurance to highlight the act of making. Eventually these seemingly simple exercises expanded into a filmic opus about whaling seen in Drawing Restraint 9. Recurring themes like athleticism and biology abound in his entire oeuvre, and the naming of his film cycle after the cremaster muscle (the muscle that raises and lower the male sexual anatomy) is a testament to his exploration of modes of power and the construction of male identity in a world often overrun by machismo. Even his production of works like the present example play into the artist’s complex dialog with the art world. ''Art needs to be defended,'' Barney has said. ''It's fragile. If a work is shown too many times, something gets stolen from it. You come to it with preconceptions, or you get tired of it. And it's the same with an artist. So I try to protect myself and my work. I want there to be a fraction of the art that even I don't understand'' (M. Barney, quoted in M. Kimmelman, “The Importance of Matthew Barney,” New York Times, October 10, 1999). Creating tangible works allow people to see and interact with the whole Cremaster series. Elusive and only shown at certain places for certain amounts of time, the conversation around the films is as much a part of them as the works themselves. Similarly, the photographs and objects derived from the series’ production are more pieces to a larger puzzle, and a physical addition to Barney’s ever-growing artistic vocabulary.
Lot Essay Header Image: Present lot illustrated (detail).