Barney's Bubble

Whatever you think of Matthew Barney--huckster, genius, huckster-genius, egotist--you have to admire his balls. (Balls, in fact, are what he would like you to think about through the five films of his Cremaster cycle, his epic of testicles descending.) For a relatively young artist, he's taken over a New York museum in a way that most artists wait a lifetime--or have to be dead--to do.

I was thinking about this on account of all the recent talk of an era gone by that had artists with big ambitions and big egos to match. Not a bad combination, obviously, since much great work has come of it, but it occurred to me--while I read Michael Kimmelman's great article in the April 6 New York Times Magazine about Dia:Beacon, the permanent museum in a renovated cracker-box factory an hour north of New York City--that you just don't see art on a really grand scale anymore. The kind that makes you, by contrast, tiny. Not like Michael Heizer's canyons blasted into Nevada rock, or James Turrell's Roden Crater. But then maybe, you know, with the price of real estate, smaller studios, and tiny laptop computers, artists are thinking smaller.

Not Barney, though. He thought in terms of a five-film cycle, five full-length films that are so arcane and stubborn and loose that they hardly have a plot, so intricately visual that Busby Berkeley is somewhere nodding in approval, and, somehow, so crowd-pleasing that the exhibition is selling out.

My buddy Matt made the pilgrimage to New York, and came back mostly gushing about the show, having seen six hours' worth of the cycle. He described for me a sculpture of variously melting and congealing Vaseline (or something like it) that drips from the top of the rotunda, level by level, to the bottom. It's an image from Cremaster 3, in which sculptor Richard Serra (whose work is prominently installed at Dia:Beacon) shovels the goo into a system that begins with one of his own sculptures, and then Barney races this mess down to the bottom.

Now that's grand: embodying your own anxiety of influence in a sculpture as tall as a building, and getting Serra (and one of his works) to make a cameo. Anyway, there are rumors, which are congealing into what more or less resembles actual fact, that Cremaster 3 is bound for Seattle. More on this as I find out myself.