Matthew Barney: The Cremaster Cycle
MATTHEW BARNEY: THE CREMASTER CYCLE
Press Preview: Thursday, February 20 from 10 am – 1 pm
NEW YORK, NY – December 12, 2002 – Matthew Barney: The Cremaster Cycle will open at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on February 21, following its critically-acclaimed presentations at the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, and the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. The exhibition, which was organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, is the first to bring together all the interconnected components—films, sculptures, drawings, and photographs—of Barney's celebrated five-part Cremaster cycle. The Guggenheim presentation is larger in scope than it was at the European venues, and it will feature a site-specific installation designed by the artist to encapsulate and conclude the entire project. In addition, for this venue the artist has created a five-channel video piece that will be suspended in the center of the Guggenheim's Rotunda. The exhibition will also include daily screenings (10:30 am and 2:30 pm) of all five Cremaster films, which have never been shown together in the U. S. The exhibition is on view through June 11, 2003.
"We are extremely proud to realize this remarkable exhibition of Matthew Barney's complete Cremaster cycle in New York," said Thomas Krens, Director, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. "Matthew has fused sculpture and film in new and unprecedented ways, redefining the very terms with which we view contemporary art. The Cremaster cycle—with its universe of unique characters, locations, and sculptural forms—is truly of the 21st century."
This exhibition has been organized by Nancy Spector, Curator of Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim Museum.
This exhibition is sponsored by HUGO BOSS and Delta Air Lines. Additional support is provided by Pitti Immagine and the Young Collectors Council.
The Cremaster Cycle
Barney began work on the Cremaster cycle in 1994. Eschewing chronological order, he first produced Cremaster 4 (1994), followed by Cremaster 1 (1995), Cremaster 5 (1997), Cremaster 2 (1999), and Cremaster 3 (2002). Along with each feature-length Cremaster film, which Barney writes and directs, and in which he often plays one or more roles, the artist has created related sculptures, drawings, and photographs. This epic cycle has as its conceptual departure point the male cremaster muscle, which controls testicular contractions in response to external stimuli. The project is rife with anatomical allusions to the position of the reproductive organs during the embryonic process of sexual differentiation: Cremaster 1 represents the most "ascended" (or undifferentiated) state, Cremaster 5 the most "descended (or differentiated). The cycle repeatedly returns to those moments during sexual development in which the outcome of the process is still unknown—in Barney's metaphoric universe, these moments represent a condition of pure potentiality. As the cycle evolved over eight years, Barney looked beyond biology as a way to explore the creation of form, employing narrative models from other realms, such as biography, mythology, and geology.
According to Curator Nancy Spector, "With the Cremaster cycle, Barney is transcribing a new, post-Oedipal myth for our contemporary culture. His is a counter-narrative that depicts internal conflict rather than external mastery; it is an epic saga in which definition is defied and resolution deferred. In contrast to the tragedy of Oedipus Rex, paternal law need not be overcome because it simply does not exist."
Barney upends the central narrative of Western civilization with both humor and hubris by borrowing its primary mode of representation: the dramatic form. For each of the Cremaster films, Barney appropriates a different theatrical or cinematic genre:
Cremaster 1 (starring Marti Domination as Goodyear) parodies the musical extravaganzas of Busby Berkeley as filtered through the lens of Leni Riefenstahl's Third Reich athletics. Chorus girls form shifting outlines of reproductive organs on a blue Astroturfed football field, their movements determined from above by a blonde starlet, who miraculously inhabits two Goodyear blimps simultaneously and creates anatomical diagrams by lining up rows of grapes.
Cremaster 2 (starring Norman Mailer as Harry Houdini) is a gothic Western based loosely on the real-life story of Gary Gilmore (played by Barney), who was executed in Utah for the murder of two men. Gilmore's biography is conveyed through a series of fantastical sequences including an occultist séance enacted with ectoplasm and bee pollen to signify his conception and a prison rodeo staged in a cast-salt arena to represent his death by firing squad. The film's plot unfolds to question the inevitability of man's fate as it is reflected in and witnessed by the expansive landscape.
Cremaster 3 (starring Richard Serra as Hiram Abiff, Aimee Mullins as the Entered Novitiate, and Matthew Barney as the Entered Apprentice) is part zombie-thriller, part gangster film. As the final installment in the cycle, the film is a distillation of the artist's major themes and signature aesthetic devices, filtered through an elaborate symbolic matrix involving Freemasonry, Celtic lore, and Art Deco design. Set in New York's Chrysler Building, the film also includes detours to the Guggenheim Museum's Frank Lloyd Wright building, to the harness track in Saratoga Springs, to Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland, and to Fingal's Cave on Staffa, an island in the Scottish Hebrides.
Cremaster 4 (starring Matthew Barney as the Loughton Candidate) is part vaudeville, part Victorian comedy of manners, and part road-movie. It is set on the Isle of Man—a topographical body punctured by orifices and passageways—where a motorbike race traverses the landscape, a dandified, tap-dancing satyr writhes his way through a treacherous underwater canal, and three burly, ambigendered fairies picnic on a grassy knoll. This film portrays sheer drive in its eternal struggle to surpass itself.
Cremaster 5 (starring Ursula Andress as the Queen of Chain and Matthew Barney as her Diva, her Magician, and her Giant), is performed as a lyric opera and is set against the Baroque backdrop of the Hungarian State Opera House. Complete with ribboned Jacobin pigeons, a lovelorn queen, and her tragic hero, this narrative flows from the gilded proscenium arch of the theater to the aqueous underworld of Budapest's Danube River to humid Gellért baths inhabited by hermaphroditic water-sprites frolicking in a pool of pearl bubbles. The circular chain of the Cremaster cycle unfolds not just cinematically, but also through the drawings, photographs, and sculptures produced in conjunction with each episode. These elements radiate outward from the narrative core of every installment. Barney's photographs—framed in the artist's signature plastic and often arranged in diptychs and triptychs that distill moments from the plot—emulate classical portraiture. His graphite and Vaseline drawings represent key aspects of the project's conceptual framework. And the sculptures—constructed from the artist's signature materials, including plastic, metal, and Vaseline—are three-dimensional incarnations of the characters and settings. They exist independently from the films, but embody the same content, now expressed in space rather than time. Conceived as a comprehensive overview of the entire series, the exhibition will feature the major sculptures created for the Cremaster cycle, many of which will be presented for the first time.
The exhibition fills the museum's entire Rotunda and two of its Annex Galleries in a site-specific installation designed by the artist to encapsulate the five-part cycle, combining all its varied components into one cohesive whole. The Rotunda and High Gallery floors will be covered in blue Astroturf, a motif derived from the football field featured in Cremaster 1. White Athletic padding will cover the Rotunda's curving parapet walls. Flags from each of the Cremaster chapters will grace the vertical axis of the atrium, and Barney's signature "field emblem" will cover the skylight. The five 35mm films will be screened daily in the Peter B. Lewis Theater and will also be shown on monitors throughout the installation to foreground the fundamental interrelationship between the moving image and sculpture in Barney's practice. The centerpiece of the installation is a five-channel video piece suspended in the middle of the Rotunda. Each screen will show different footage from "The Order," a sequence from Cremaster 3 shot in the Guggenheim. Staged as a perverse competition with Barney as its sole contestant, "The Order" deploys five levels of the Guggenheim's spiraling ramps in a Masonic allegory representing the five chapters of the cycle. Barney's character must advance from the ground floor to the top of the spiral, passing through each level and confronting its obstacles within a specified period of time. Level One is the Order of the Rainbow for Girls, a troupe of Masonic girl scouts who perform precision tap dancing. Conflating the showgirls of Cremaster 1 with the Masonic First Degree, Barney has costumed this ensemble in little-lamb outfits complete with ears, tails, fishnet stockings, and hoofed tap shoes. Level Two comprises the New York hardcore bands Agnostic Front and Murphy's Law, who play on cast-salt stages to a mosh pit full of fans. Their raw musical energy and antagonistic stance correspond to the sensibility of Cremaster 2, which has its share of heavy-metal music and salt. Their connection to the Masonic Second Degree will become clear in the puzzle that Barney must solve before leaving this Level and the lyrics of the song they sing in battle with one another. Cremaster 3 and the Masonic Third Degree are represented on the next Level by the double amputee, Paralympic track star, and fashion model Aimee Mullins. Her character will mutate from a couture model dressed in a white gown and crystal legs to a hybrid Egyptian warrior whose lower body is that of a cheetah. Representing the third Cremaster episode and the Third Degree (the level of Master Mason), Mullins has a pivotal role: she is, in essence, Barney's alter ego. Cremaster 3 is the narcissistic center of the cycle; it resonates with references to the project as a whole, and to Barney's position as its author. As a professional athlete and model, Mullins already echoes aspects of the artist's own biography. When Barney confronts her on Level Three, he is facing himself in all his guises—the prerequisite of the Third Degree. The opponent on Level Four is an enlarged and abstracted bagpipe, whose bag is made out of a four-horned, flayed Loughton Ram (here cast in white plastic). A breed indigenous to the Isle of Man, this sheep figures prominently in Cremaster 4. The artist Richard Serra inhabits Level Five, which symbolizes even higher echelons of moral rectitude within Masonic thought. He is the personification of the most differentiated state, the fully descended entity witnessed in Cremaster 5. Dressed in protective clothing and gas mask, Serra hurls molten Vaseline against propped plates of prosthetic plastic on the top ramp of the museum. He thereby sets the clock for the Order: while the loose Vaseline runs down a trough on the Guggenheim's sloping ramps, Barney must solve all the game's challenges before it reaches the bottom.
The exhibition mirrors the structure of "The Order"—the different Cremaster installments progress from the floor of the Rotunda floor to the Annex Gallery at its top in ascending order. Sculptures introduced in "The Order" as symbols for each Cremaster film are exhibited in the context of their respective chapters alongside the earlier works. The installation begins on the Rotunda floor with Goodyear Field (1995-96), the sculpture from Cremaster 1, accompanied by its respective film shown in a continuous loop on two monitors. The High Gallery, one turn of the ramp above the Rotunda floor, serves as an index to the entire cycle. Five specially-crafted vitrines holding the individual Cremaster films form a pentagon in the center of the room. They are surrounded by a frieze of photographic portraits from each of the five chapters. A vitrine outside the High Gallery contains a drawing from Cremaster 1 and a lambskin apron, which references the "1st Degree" of "The Order." Cremaster 2 is represented on the second ramp with a series of sculptural vitrines devoted to the main characters of the film: Gary Gilmore and his girlfriend Nicole Baker, Bessie Gilmore, Frank Gilmore, Baby Fay la Foe, and The Man in Black. These are joined by the Cabinet of Harry Houdini (1999). Sculptures from the multicomponent installation The Drone's Exposition (1999) inaugurate this level. On the level directly above, Cremaster 2 is represented again, but this time by the installation entitled The Perfect Cube Must Pass Through The Metamorphosis of The Cross (2002), comprised by the cast-salt stages and Masonic tools featured in the mosh-pit sequence ("2nd Degree") of "The Order." In proximity to this sculpture, two video monitors continuously screen the Cremaster 2 film. Cremaster 3 is represented on the next ramp with a series of new sculptures that relate to architectural elements featured in the film: The Cloud Club (2002), a concrete-filled piano with sterling silver Masonic tools on its lid; Partition (2002), a frozen Vaseline bar; and Jachin and Boaz (2003), two spiraling columns held in place by a Deco-inspired plastic and metal gantry. Cremaster 3 continues in Annex Gallery 5 with the five-part sculpture Chrysler Imperial (2002), which embodies the demolition derby played in the Chrysler Building lobby during the film. Each of the contending cars represents a separate Cremaster chapter. The film itself plays on two back-to-back screens suspended above the sculpture. The installation then proceeds to Cremaster 4 with the sculpture The Five Points of Fellowship (2002), the cast-plastic sheep, and 160 bagpipe drones used for a Caber toss during the "4th Degree" of "The Order." Cremaster 4 continues onto the next and final level with the three sculptures created in relation to the film: [PITCH] Field of the Ascending Faerie (1995); The Isle of Man (1994–95); and [PIT] Field of the Descending Faerie (1995). They are accompanied by two monitors showing Cremaster 4. Annex Gallery 7, located at the top of the Rotunda, features Cremaster 5 in an installation featuring the sculptures Lánchíd: The Lament of the Queen of Chain and The Erich Weiss Suite (both 1997) as well as the film itself. Cremaster 5's presence in "The Order" is represented by a trough filled with molten Vaseline that runs nearly the length of the Rotunda's spiraling ramp. The installation also includes a selection of drawings and photographs from all five chapters of the Cremaster cycle.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated, 530-page publication, published by the Guggenheim Museum and distributed by Harry N. Abrams, Inc. The book functions as a comprehensive guide to the entire project, providing documentary, archival, and interpretive material on the series, and revealing the artist's working methods and tracing the interconnected narrative threads of the cycle as a whole. The five Cremaster installments are represented in a special section designed by the artist, which amalgamates his source material, concept drawings, storyboards, and finished art works to retell the narrative of each episode. Two major essays articulate the Cremaster cycle's multivalent themes and explore Barney's innovative and unprecedented aesthetic vocabulary. Authors include Barney specialist Neville Wakefield and exhibition curator Nancy Spector. The publication also includes reminiscences by the key collaborators in the Cremaster project: actors in the films, such as Ursula Andress, Norman Mailer, and Richard Serra; composer Jonathan Bepler; Director of Photography Peter Strietmann; and choreographers, costume designers, and technicians. The publication was designed by J. Abbott Miller of Pentagram. Major sponsorship for this exhibition catalogue is made possible by a generous grant from the Adam D. Sender Charitable Trust. It is available in hardcover for $65 and softcover for $45.
In addition, Matthew Barney has created an artist's book, as he has for each previous installment of the Cremaster cycle, in which he reconstructs the narrative of the film through a vivid selection of photographs and stills. Matthew Barney: Cremaster 3 is published by the Guggenheim Museum and distributed by D.A.P. It is available for $49.95.
December 12, 2002
For Screening Schedule: (212) 360-4321
For Press Information: Betsy Ennis/Jennifer Russo, Public Affairs Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Telephone: (212) 423-3840
Telefax: (212) 423-3787