An Inclusive Litany

6/5/00

From Harper's, March 2000, its 150th distinguished year of publication:
Matthew Barney is the Michelangelo of genital art, the supreme master of the genre, whose work so transcends the run-of-the-mill video artist masturbating in his studio that he may also be said to bring his tradition to its unsurpassable realization.... The great challenge facing each genital artist is one of visual discrimination.... After viewing a few thousand photographs or videos featuring genitalia (and their excrementa) in various poses and states of mutilation... it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish among the works of different artists.... Barney's work, as it sets about redeeming genital art, also moves beyond it, revealing it to be a style of world-historical significance....

His first major piece, Field Dressing, revealed the naked young Yale graduate sliding up and down a metal pole, carefully and repeatedly applying cooled Vaseline to all his orifices....

[In] his next major work, Blind Perineum... the artist used mountain-climbing gear to clamber about naked on the walls and ceiling of the Barbara Gladstone Gallery. Still, the public and critical establishment seemed resistant to the power of the work.... Barney replied with Radical Drill, in which he performed football blocking exercises wearing a black evening gown and high-heeled shoes.... Drawing Restraint 7, which appeared a few years later in the 1993 Whitney Biennial, featured Barney costumed as a goat-boy named Kid, along with a couple of satyrs who spend much of the video wrestling in the back of a limo, repeatedly penetrating Manhattan via the island's tunnels and bridges....

[Barney] is not burdened with a fashionable concern for "the other." What distinguishes Barney's Onanism from other varieties of genital art is its persistent self-regard; Onanism is all about the self, Barney's self....

[Ed.: Barney has been called "the most crucial artist of his generation" by the New York Times and was awarded the prestigious Hugo Boss Prize of the Guggenheim Museum.]

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