Matthew Barney: The Cremaster Cycle

Matthew Barney: The Cremaster Cycle


NEW YORK, NY—April 9, 2002—The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum today announced at a press conference the exhibition and international tour of Matthew Barney: The CREMASTER Cycle, an epic five-part film project, accompanied by related sculptures, photographs, and drawings. Begun in 1994 and created out of sequence, Barney has produced four episodes to date—4, 1, 5, and 2. On the occasion of this exhibition, Barney will premiere the final installment of the cycle, CREMASTER 3. This exhibition is organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, in cooperation with the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, and the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. It will be presented at the Museum Ludwig from June 6 to September 1, 2002. Following its opening in Cologne, the exhibition will travel to the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (October 10, 2002–January 5, 2003), and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (February 14, 2003–May 11, 2003).

"We are extremely happy on this occasion to announce the long-awaited exhibition, Matthew Barney: The CREMASTER Cycle and its international tour, " said Thomas Krens, Director, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. "Matthew is one of the most important artists of his generation. Through his films, sculptures, photographs, drawings and books, Matthew's potent imagery and private cosmology have a haunting and allusive presence."

The exhibition installation, designed specifically by the artist for each of the three venues, will bring together the interconnected components of the CREMASTER cycle—sculpture, photographs, drawing, and video versions of the films—to encapsulate and conclude the entire project. Each venue will also screen the 35 mm films in a theatrical setting. For the first time, audiences will fully experience the fundamental interrelationship between the objects and the moving image in the CREMASTER cycle. The exhibition has been organized by Nancy Spector, Curator of Contemporary Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

The world premiere of Matthew Barney's film CREMASTER 3 will be held on May 1st at the Ziegfeld Theater, as a benefit for contemporary programming at the Guggenheim Museum, followed by its commercial release at Film Forum in New York City on May 15.

In 1994, Barney began work on his epic CREMASTER cycle, a five-part film project accompanied by related sculptures, photographs, and drawings. Eschewing chronological order, Barney first produced CREMASTER 4 (1994), followed by CREMASTER 1 (1995), CREMASTER 5 (1997), and CREMASTER 2 (1999). CREMASTER 3 was completed this year.

The CREMASTER cycle takes as its point of conceptual departure the male cremaster muscle which controls testicular contractions in response to external stimuli. The cycle circulates around anatomical conditions of "ascension" or "descension" to metaphorically describe the evolution of form through biological, psychosexual, and morphological allusions. Barney's CREMASTER cycle is an intricately interrelated symbolic system: the locations, characters, prosthetic effects, costumes, and sets portray an ever-evolving organism that thrives through competition with itself.

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." Spector continued, "In contrast to the tragedy of Oedipus Rex, paternal law need not be overcome because it simply does not exist. Instead, form engenders form through a radical cycle of discipline, self-division, and resistance." 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 films comprising the CREMASTER cycle, 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 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 premised loosely on the real-life story of Gary Gilmore, 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 and Aimee Mullins as the Entered Novitiate) 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 desires. 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 is set on the Isle of Man—a topographical body punctured by orifices and passageways—where a feverish 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. Part vaudeville, part Victorian comedy of manners, and part road-movie, this film portrays sheer drive in its eternal struggle to surpass itself.

CREMASTER 5 (starring Ursula Andress as the Queen of Chain), is set against the Baroque backdrop of the Hungarian State Opera House. Performed as a lyric opera complete with ribboned Jacobin pigeons, a love-lorn 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, sculptures, and installations produced in conjunction with each episode. These elements radiate outward from the narrative core of every installment. The photographs—framed in the artist's signature plastic and often arranged in diptychs and triptychs that distill moments from the plot—emulate traditional portraiture. Barney's works on paper represent key aspects of the project's conceptual framework. And his sculptures are three-dimensional incarnations of the characters and settings. They exist separately from the films, but contain 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.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated, 530-page publication, providing documentary, archival, and interpretive material on the five-part series. The book functions as a comprehensive guidebook to the entire project, 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 respective film. 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 interviews with the key collaborators in the CREMASTER project: actors in the film, such as Ursula Andress, Norman Mailer, and Richard Serra; composer Jonathan Bepler; choreographers, costume designers, technicians, etc. The publication is designed by J. Abbott Miller of Pentagram.

In addition, Matthew Barney has created an artist book, as he has for each installment of his five-part CREMASTER cycle, which reconstructs the narrative of CREMASTER 3 through a vivid selection of photographs and video stills.

CREMASTER 3 Premiere
The premiere of CREMASTER 3 will be held on May 1, 2002, as a fundraising event for the Guggenheim Museum. To purchase tickets, call (212) 423-3581.

April 9, 2002

For Press Information:

Betsy Ennis/Sasha Nicholas, Public Affairs
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Telephone: (212) 423-3840
Telefax: (212) 423-3787

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