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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Museum Review: Matthew Barney - River of Fundament @ MOCA Geffen LA

This is the large ark type thing that occupies a whole room at the Matthew Barney River of Fundament exhibit at Moca Geffen in Los Angeles.

Museum Review:
Matthew Barney - River of Fundament @ MOCA Geffen LA
September 13th, 2015- January 18th, 2016
(Museum Exhibition Website)

  Matthew Barney has a certain level of pop culture notoriety from his position as Mr. ex-Bjork, but he's also an unqualified star in the serious art world.  For the last several months Barney has been screening his latest work, the six and a half hour movie-opera River of Fundament.   River of Fundament is his first major work since he completed the five movie series Cremaster Cycle in 2002.  According to reviews, River of Fundament has been seven years in the making.   Now, I haven't seen River of Fundament quite yet, but I did sit through all five Cremasters, in order, in the basement of the Guggenheim Museum in NYC during his exhibition there several years back, so I feel like I have a decent grip on the themes that Barney favors.

  Anyone expecting River of Fundament to be anything like a radical departure from his earlier work is going to be sorely disappointed.  In fact, River of Fundament has much in common with Cremaster (which had much in common with his early Drawing Restraint series):   A fascination with the American Automobile industry, bodily functions, Norman Mailer.  One review I read of the movie (London Guardian) called it a satire of American consumerism, but having seen Barney himself speak on the subject of his inspiration and themes (in Boise Idaho, thank you very much);  I would be inclined to reject that interpretation.    I would argue that Barney sees genuine meaning in the rise and fall of the American auto industry, that he genuinely likes Norman Mailer's terrible-by-all-accounts career swan song Ancient Evenings and that he is as deeply sincere about his work as an artist in 2015 can be.

  For a variety of reasons, Barney is a polarizing figure in the art world.  Some of it is straight forward resentment of the fact that he is a formerly football playing, Yale attending, underwear model who was literally plucked from obscurity and catapulted to international art world acclaim overnight, the art world equivalent of a pop star who strikes pay dirt with their first single.  Others see his work as a parody of itself, grandiose statements about nothing.   Being quite fond of Barney myself, I feel that the criticism is misplaced, that his early fame was no stoke of luck but rather based on his willingness to test his physical limitations a la Chris Burden (see the Drawing Restraint series) and that his obsession with substances like Vaseline and the anal penetration of men and women simply reflects the world we live in. 

   For the MOCA Geffen exhibition, the museum is in its familiar open air configuration, with two main galleries and a series of side rooms.  One room is set aside for repeated screenings of the six hour film.  If you are interested, it shows on Thursdays between 1:30 PM and 7:30 PM, Saturdays and Sundays between 11:30 AM and 5:30 PM, with two twenty minute intermissions between the three parts.  Outside the theater is a giant wood ark/boat type construction that occupies the entire second room of the exhibit.  In the main gallery there are several sculpture type works that combine car parts/forms and various metals.  The walls are lined with etched metal drawings.  One side room contains glassed in inspirational photographs- a drawn-in copy of Mailer's Ancient Evenings, a photo of a woman being sodomized by a huge penis, you know, the kind of things one would expect at a Matthew Barney show.  The side rooms also contain a couple of sarcophagus style pieces that look like they were made with a substance similar to the vaseline sculptures he made for the Guggenheim Cremaster show.

  Those looking for work inspired by his recent breakup with Bjork will be disappointed.  Unlike Bjork, who wrote a whole record about the break-up, Barney's work contains no trace of her.  Indeed, River of Fundament can best be described as Barney being Barney, and if you love him, you'll like the exhibition, and if you hate him, this exhibition won't change your mind.

  I have a Thursday in early October set aside for a viewing of the film, and I'll let readers know how THAT goes.  I hear there is a massive orgy in the third act.  Several orgies, in fact.

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