23 April 2006

By A Sculptor, For Sculptors...Mostly

Barney is the most reasonable heir to the Big Boy Sculptor Throne. He's as pompous and beautiful and attenuated as Serra (weird but not accidental word choice, attenuated). He has inherited the obsession with phallus and yoni, flair, and DIY can-doitude of Mark diSuvero. He has Eva Hesse's obsession with repetition of form and material innovation. He attempts to be as completely generous about his fucked up self as Louise Bourgeois. He wrestles with sculpture's relationships to the body and time with almost as much conviction as (although with less than half the grace of) Rebecca Horn.

I do not mention contemporaries because in a lot of ways Barney is a throwback, kind of conservative. Kind of towing the Sculpture Party Line. And I think that's OK. The conversation about sculpture is kind of languishing in that dead space between Donald Judd and Michael Fried. To be right on that cutting edge is to be old-school. Otherwise it's all just stuff-in-a-gallery.

And if you look at DR9 as a sculpture and not a film, then much of it is not disappointing. It's extraordinarily ponderous, but much of this ponderousness is what happens when you meditate on the making of things.

how features prominently. Gaze lovingly on hardware and welds. work is fetishized as only a sculptor can. It makes perfect sense to equate rigging and tea ceremony. One should celebrate the arduousness and riskiness of mold-making with a parade of dancers and drums. the space between things and how things are joined is the most important part of making, and so yes. You will have to sit through both sides of the hose getting connected. You will have to watch lots of boats coming together. And this will take time, because this process of joining and spacing is dynamic and does unfold in time.

This aspect of DR9 gave me a gigantic, throbbing boner, despite the me-Tarzan-you-Jane absurdity of the Phallic Whale Rock entering the Nishin Maru. (Will someone ask Louise Bourgeois to whack Barney with a gigantic sculpture of a penis before she leaves this world? Please?) By attempting to make films that are sculptures, Barney is putting down some wooden planks under the tires and attempting to unstick the Sculpture Bus from the mucky mire of minimalism. And he fails fails fails for sculptural reasons. Making is empowering. It is easy to overly generalize that empowerment and start thinking that everything you do is interesting. And because making is empowering, it is easy to start thinking that you are powerful interesting or something.

Then, drunk on your own high of being able to get petroleum jelly to do stuff, you start thinking that everybody wants to see the way you move this meditation about making into your love life. All your silly sexual repressions come pouring out and this dilutes your power considerably. Your brilliant thoughts about sculpture become a vehicle for your personality and that of your exotic popstar wife. All the interesting sculpture stuff derails entirely. Ponderousness collapses into sheer tedium. Cue the CGI and the flensing knives. And when I thought it couldn't get any worse. When my hopes of finding out something new about sculpture were thoroughly dashed against the rocks of special effects and egoism and cannibalism and schlock, this figure appears:

What the fuck?!?!?

Barney cannot have it both ways. Sculpture languishes, tended by caring, earnest, hardworking folks like Charles Ray, Liz Craft and Jennifer Pastor, who delve quite deeply but are often obtuse, for a reason: nobody cares. Studying sculpture is as relevant as being a medievalist. Barney knows this, and is afraid of it. This is why his practice as a maker often lapses into propshop. This is why the sculpture he's making over and over again is his freaking logo. This is why DR 9 is, ultimately, a celebrity vehicle. This is why we had to endure a fake, boring cannibalist spectacle instead of just getting the mold pulled and watching the gigantic souffle fantastically, achingly fall.

The good news is that DR9 is such a gigantic disappointment, is so achingly, crushingly, embarassingly bad--Barney may actually have to sit down and think about what he has done and do better next time.

Personal note to Matthew Barney: You're famous enough. Be a sculptor! We need you! You have the bankroll, the smarts, and the infinite care that it takes to take sculpture to a more relevant place. Follow through on what is actually interesting and unknown about your work and spare us your ego!


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