Matthew Barney’s show at Sadie Coles is again disappointing. As we all know, this artist has turned himself into the source of artistic value. By this, I mean that he has constantly created ‘narratives’ (in the shape of ‘films’) that are linked to big themes which, at the same time, justify the purpose (and, ultimately, monetary value) of a series of physical objects. The themes have always been those of death, rebirth and regeneration. Of course, these might sound intriguing and fascinating topics but let me tell you that they have been the main concerns of the likes of Titian, Velazquez and Michelangelo, way before Barney. Nothing new there.
You know that anyone who makes an epic six-hour film about a river of shit is both a lover of paradoxes and also a bore. From the grandiose ‘Cremaster’ cycle through to this year’s overwhelming shit-flick ‘River of Fundament’, Matthew Barney has created a varied (sometimes good) body of work that has seen him become one of the biggest deals in contemporary art. It’s ‘River of Fundament’ that serves as the basis for the five sculptures and seven engravings in this exhibition.
The engravings depict characters from the film – Egyptian gods carved into zinc, rays of light exploding from their butts – but they’re not particularly good images. They look like the doodlings of a bored teenager, carved into a school desk. Of course, this does not matter because their relevance is supposed to lie on the fact that they are linked to the epic movie about shit. I am being literal and not metaphorical here.
The sculptures, though, are more ambitious and lyrical. Barney is all about Big Symbolism, capital B, capital S, which means that you don’t need to have seen ‘River of Fundament’ to understand the grand themes at play here. Having said this, the fact that he manipulates the huge chassis of an American car, to create ‘Crown Victoria’ brings to mind the work of John Chamberlain. Barney’s is a hulking, charred, grey mass, flanked either side by two smaller but equally grey chunks of coral-like metal. The grille of that same car lies in another room, its front plated in gold while a final sculpture features a long metal tool resting on a cone of crystallised sulphur. There is something post-Apocalyptic as in Adrian Villar Rojas or Allora & Calzadilla in the fact that time appears to be allegorised through the calcification of the objects instead of through its plastic manipulation. In other words, compared to John Chamberlain, Barney’s is a pathetic attempt at representing the metamorphosis of life. Its sheer theatricality makes him desperate and grandiose. The depiction of beauty born from destruction is far too literal and demands far too much from the viewer. Literally, having to see six hours of shit. J A T
MATTHEW BARNEY AT SADIE COLE KING ST (UNTIL DECEMBER 13th)
MY ONE TO ONE INTERVIEW WITH ANGELA LYN