American sculptor and video artist. Barney's early experiences of sport and modelling informed his subsequent work as an artist, in which he developed an obtuse personal mythology and a body of work often hieroglyphic in meaning. While still a student at Yale University, New Haven, CT, in 1988, Barney began working on the Drawing Restraint Series, in which he turned mark-making into a test of physical endurance. He made his New York debut in 1991 with the performance MILEHIGH Threshold: Flight with the ANAL SADISTIC WARRIOR, in which he appeared as a free climber within the gallery space. The performance was unwitnessed but documented on video and shown in the gallery space for the duration of the exhibition. Although such performances can be related to the body art of figures such as Chris Burden, Bruce Nauman and Vito Acconci, Barney's athletic performances have an undercurrent of undifferentiated eroticism that suggests a connection between sexuality and physical endurance. Barney's concern with the spectacle of performance found ambitious expression in the Cremaster films, conceived as a five-part cycle and incompletely filmed thoughout the1990s: Cremaster 4 (1994), Cremaster 1 (1995), Cremaster5 (1997) and Cremaster 2 (1999). The films are characterised by their high production values, exuberant locations, macabre dramaturgy and bizarre structure. The disturbing and fantastical scenarios that Barney plays out relate predominantly to gender and the reproductive system, constructing a highly cryptic social/sexual mythology.
Matthew Barney: New Work (exh. cat. by R. Riley and J. Caldwell,San Francisco, CA, MOMA, 1991)
S. Morgan: ‘Of Goats and Men', Frieze, xx (1995), pp. 35–9
A. Perchuk and H. Posner, eds: Masculine Masquerade: Masculinity and Representation (Boston, MA, 1995)
Cremaster 4 (exh. cat., essay by J. Lingwood; Paris, Fond. Cartier;New York, Barbara Gladstone Gal., 1995)
10 December 2001