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LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

July 28, 2006
The new Matthew Barney exhibit at the SFMOMA is definitive proof for my theory that Modern Art is garbage. Wow, that may be a little too harsh of a statement, but with Barney it is difficult to tow the line. He either comes across as a visionary genius or a showy hack. Unfortunately, I tend to see him as the latter.

Drawing Restraint is a collection of various mediums of art that Barney has been working on for the last twenty years. Finally (and I don't mean that in a Oooh, I've been waiting so long for this! kind of way) assembled together in one place, the exhibit is massive, consuming an entire floor of the museum. Featuring drawings, photography, installations, and Barney's medium of choice, video, the scope of the work is impressive. The content, however, will leaving you scratching your head and wondering what the fuck it is, exactly, that you just witnessed.

Drawing Restraint's first section is set around a theme of physical restraints and how they affected the artist's attempts at making art. Video loops show Barney trying to draw on a ceiling that he must jump to reach, on a rock-climbing wall that he is scaling, and on the walls while running around in some kind of weird gymnasium setting. An interesting, if ultimately boring idea. If I wanted to watch someone chalk up their hands for two minutes, I would leave the shower room periodically when I go to the gym.

The exhibit continues into a much larger room that was predominantly filled with glacier-like plastic forms on the ground. Photographs lined the walls, but once again, video monitors hanging from the center of the ceiling were the focal point. This room seemed to have a nautical theme, with pictures of Japanese people on a large boat and the videos featuring what I'm assuming to be the same boat sailing through grey waters. Part of it also had Barney's real life partner, Bj�rk, descending a rocky path in a kimono. By this point I was at a complete loss as to what all of this meant and I was beginning to think that one possible answer could be... not much.

The final room of the exhibit featured many of the same kinds of forms lying on the ground as the previous room and, once again, Japanese-themed pictures lining the walls. As lackluster as the first two rooms had been I was willing to give Barney the benefit of the doubt, at least until room three. To be honest I have seen much, much worse work displayed in the halls of MOMA and while Barney's work maybe wasn't the most interesting to me, at least none of what I had seen crossed the border into ridiculous art for ridiculous art's sake. But then I saw the trio of Minotaur videos. I do not care what you say - fuck, the ghost of Pablo Picasso could tell me I'm wrong and I'd tell him he didn't know what the fuck he was talking about - but Matthew Barney all dolled up as a minotaur and rolling around on the ground chasing his tail in no way constitutes high-minded, thought provoking art. I go through a remarkably similar process every Friday night after drinking too much whiskey, only sometimes I'm not wearing the costume. And herein lies the problem I have always had with Barney; his over-the-top, grand spectacles are always visually arresting, but it is hard to discern an underlying meaning when on the surface everything seems so absurd and outlandish. Just look at his past "Cremaster" film cycle; regardless of the content (which is pretty far out) one only need to know that cremaster is the name of the muscle that raises and lowers the testicles. Right there I'm calling bullshit.

The photographs that played a major part in the exhibition were oftentimes very beautiful, but I couldn't help but be more intrigued by the little placard next to them that said they were ensconced in a "self-lubricating plastic frame." Um, okay. Whatever that means. And anyway, if I wanted to see amazing photos, all I had to do was go down one floor to the exhibit by Shomei Tomatsu that featured more than two hundred images that were breath-taking, poignant, and completely devoid of pretense.

I may not wear a beret and be able to tell you what the hot new gallery is, but I have two eyes and brain, which qualifies me to be able to enjoy and form an opinion on art. I enjoy art for the visual and mental stimulation it provides, but while meandering through Drawing Restraint the only thought the exhibit provoked was, "Really, this guy's famous?"

SEE ALSO: www.cremasterfanatic.com
SEE ALSO: www.sfmoma.org

--
Kevin Alfoldy
An aspiring global adventurer who cut his teeth on the sandy beaches and dirty bitches of Southern California, Kevin Alfoldy now spends his non-vacation days in Brooklyn, New York, where he occasionally finds the time to rub the crust out of his eyes long enough to contribute reviews and feature articles for LAS. A longtime staff member, Kevin also captains the tattered, often half-sunk raft of EPmd, our irregular column of EP reviews.

See other articles by Kevin Alfoldy.

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