Saturday, August 30, 2008

Matthew Barney

Sometimes I think Matthew Barney is Joseph Beuys + a lot of money. Other times I think it's totally brilliant. This is like a royal mask or something (except about testicles).


Blogger Max said...

The main problem I have with Matthew Barney's films is that he usually just seems to be filming sculptures and installations, not really using the film medium in any interesting ways.

12:19 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

No, often it's more like a fancy documentation of an art event.

6:55 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

. . . why should visual artists like this get so much money and poets so little . . .

you, Johannes, are doing more important work than Barney . . . all his funding should be going to you and other young poets like you . . .

7:24 AM  
Blogger UCOP Killer said...


It's true that Barney isn't really much of a filmmaker, but that's not really a problem, is it? I mean, using one medium (film) to do the work of a another medium (installation) isn't necessarily bad--Jeff Wall makes paintings with photography, and Alice Notley writes novels with poetry (this last is debatable, I suppose). . .

The real problem with Barney is how Wagnerian he is, and how this brings with it all of the elitist, proto-fascist themes one gets with Wagner. Initiation, the search for a vital and authentic life (usually found in other cultures), etc. Not to mention the profound Orientalism of the Drawing Restraint film. . .You get this kind of shamanic hucksterism with Beuys, too, but it's complicated by a more direct and more antagonistic political content.

10:25 AM  
Blogger Matt Walker said...

Uh yeah, that's what I thought of when I watched this--fascism...riiiiiiiiight.............

12:40 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Jasper --

I'm not trying to say that Barney is doing films in the "wrong" way, but rather that I just find myself sort of dozing off during them because his "way" is pretty much a straight-up filming of his sculptures/installations most of the time. I can only watch so many minutes of these types of "art films" before the elitism, and hell, the expectedness of the enterprise really begins to eat away at me. I mean, I kind of expect visual artists, at this point, to make films about sculptors inexplicably tossing around vaseline and things of that nature. It's all just too "artsy" for me.

2:08 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

How interesting: An "artsy" fascist that causes his audience to doze off? How does that work?

I can't see the fascistic in a basically grotesque vision of the human body (a penis torn off by doves in this clip). If anything, it's "degenerate."

Also, I don't see it as a search for the authentic - a decadent, aesheticist exploration of the performative is more like it.

(This is also why Beuys is a more interesting artist than the Fluxus people who hated on him.)

The orientalism is very much problematized and foregrounded in Drawing Restraint. There's even a quote about Japanese opening up to the West etc and the clashing imagery of Japan.

Not that I believe all interesting art has to be PC.

I think a Fascist spectacle has to push people to act (which means that Walt Disney is more fascist than Barney). These self-obsessed movies are more likely to cause people to doze off (as Max attests).

Like I said, this has much more to do with Renaissance masks than it has to do with Fascism.In fact I think the fascist charge is way too overused.

More later.

4:15 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I just posted that and I already disagree with some of my own statements.

Spectacular art is more complex than just Fascist/Wagnerian vs non-fascist. That's why my post about Total Art was a bit reductive. I liked Konrad's comment there.

The body has such an interesting and strange place in modern and avant-garde art that I think we need to improve the frames for thinking about it.

I'll write something a little more thoguhtful tomorrow.

4:19 PM  
Blogger konrad said...

The main problem i have with Matthew Barney's films is that even the hints of a sense of humor are self-serious. I feel like that is a fascist indicator: my laughter at myself is a closed interpretation.

He had a big exhibit in SF years ago that included the testicle films, and a lot of body parts of the production were on display too (not to mention the bookstore tchotckes!). It felt like his credo was: "the medium is the merch."

Johannes, do you know the work by Amelia Jones on the Baroness Elsa? There's an essay published in The Dada Seminars: called "New York Dada: Beyond the readymade" that was printed in conjunction with that blockbuster traveling dada exhibit recently. It contains an essay by Jones that revealed a lot to me re: dada's body. Her book "Irrational Modernism" contains more about Elsa, but was less exciting (to me), yet still: more expansive on the topic of an alternate history of modernism, which was great.

FWIW i'd recommend also this feminist examination of body-art work: "What the Body Cost" by Jane Blocker.

9:23 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...


all my life i've seen poets praising those in the other more lucrative arts like this . . .

it's a one-way street: poets praise these visual/film/et al artists

but they never support poetry . . .

"Beuys with money"——— and will he

(or any of those in the other fiscally-wealthier) arts

ever donate any money to support poetry?

will he publically praise your and other young poets' projects and publications,

will he auction his "works" to pay for the printing/distribution costs

of the poets you admire/affirm with your actions and transactions?

how many of his zillion millions has "poet" Bod McDylan donated

to the Small Press Collective????

8:56 AM  
Blogger Matt Walker said...

Bill, I just heard a great poem on the radio. It goes like this:

Why don't we do it in the road
Why don't we do it in the road
Why don't we do it in the road
Why don't we do it in the road
No one will be watching us
Why don't we do it in the road

9:00 AM  

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