The Pseudo-Mysticism of Matthew Barney

“As the nation declines in power and wealth, a universal pessimism gradually pervades the people, and itself hastens the decline.”

– Sir John Glubb, The Fate of Empires

Extra on the set of True Blood? No. Great artistic genius Matthew Barney.

After looking at Austin Osman Spare as an example of an artist using his artistic skills to explore mystical/magical beliefs, by way of contrast I’d like to turn to Matthew Barney as an example of the kind of fatuous P. T. Barnum bullshit that the contemporary art world currently favors. Austin Osman Spare is an artist in every sense of the word. Barney is a trendy charlatan in the manner of Marina Abramovic and company, all of  whom would be better placed on stage with Dr. Phil and Oprah Winfrey than in an art museum.

First of all one can read the trivial and idiotic art writing that the critics of the New York Times specialize in. Holland Carter, one of the chief adepts, in his review of Matthew Barney, serves up a typical malodorous stew which is about all the New York Times seems fit to print in place of  an art review. :

One need only read the second paragraph to understand that Cotter is either a complete moron or a typical corporate shill bleating about whatever useless junk the corporate investors in art have chosen to fatten their bank accounts as if it’s the work of a timeless genius. Invariably, Marcel Duchamp is cited to give intellectual weight to endless piles of junk and debris that are supposedly invested with deep meaning since they were chosen and arranged by the latest artistic genius. And why not throw in the Marquis de Sade to indicate just how revolutionary an artist like Matthew Barney is? Of course, Sade spent 30 years of his life in prison and was loathed by the French state apparatus, while Matthew Barney is lionized, showered with fortune and written about as if he were Jaques-Louis David.

The ludicrous idiocies of these kind of comparisons never seem to dawn in the empty heads of the critics of the New York Times. But to quote Upton Sinclair, a writer well-versed in patent American charlatanism “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Let’s see if we can decipher Cotter’s authoritative pronouncement: “Encased in thick, pale, greasy-looking plastic frames, Mr. Barney’s drawings of the past two decades have the look of precious pages from sacred books.”

Below is Matthew Barney’s   Perineum, a drawing of the region between the scrotum and the anus. Fortunately Mr. Barney titled it because without the title one would have no idea what it’s supposed to be depicting, given his lack of any noticeable artistic skill.

Holland Cotter is equating  a drawing of an asshole by someone without any visible sign of artistic training to a drawing from the pages of a sacred book. Cotter must surely know what an asshole looks like if he bothers to look in the mirror in the morning, but does he have any notion of what the pages of a sacred book look like? Just as an example I’ll post a Dürer engraving from his illustrations of the Book of Revelations. Here are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse since I feel them approaching as I write:

Yes, but of course. And Tracy Emin’s scribbles always bring to mind the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. All in the minds of brain-dead  New York art critics, who’ve burbled for years over this kind of tedious and imbecilic crap, all of it not having the least bit of differentiation from what’s next to it in terms of being completely vapid and lacking any artistic qualities whatsoever that wouldn’t belong to the average 12 year old. Below a typical Emin scribble:

The following images are from Les Tres Riches Heures:

Below more examples of typical Matthew Barney drawings. Cotter writes: “…This sense of the idiosyncratic promoted to the realm of myth is the strength of this drawings show.” At least one thing is certain. Barney’s  inane drawings are certainly matched by Cotter’s inane writing.

We hear that the show is co-organized by “art historian” Klaus Kertess. And in what world is an art dealer who ran a trendy New York gallery from 1966 to 1975 considered an “art historian”?   What books or scholarly research are we to credit to Klaus Kertess?  None, whatsoever. What kind of “art history” might Klaus Kertess be familiar with that precedes New York art from the 1960s?

Klaus Kertess is a simple con artist of the noticeably American type. He and hundreds of others with the help of sycophantic accomplices like Holland Cotter have created a world of complete bullshit where they can pass off whatever the hell they feel like as “art” by simply selling shares of it into the international financial markets. It would seem as if the entire point of contemporary art today is to find something that is such obvious rubbish that only an art world that is entirely corrupt and possessing no values whatsoever would sanctify it.

This is the purest charlatanism. Anybody with half a brain knows it, only in today’s art world one would be hard-pressed to find anybody possessing half a brain. If they do they’re certainly keeping it to themselves. Why?… because the penalty of whistleblowing in this particular world is exclusion and banishment. Imagine the panic if artists and buyers realized that the whole thing was just a gigantic mountain of media hype and hucksterism. Not only that but how would life even be worth living if one were to be banished from the Art World?

The ninnies apparently don’t understand that the Empire has collapsed… That the Empire’s New Clothes are in motley tatters, covered in vaseline and plastic resins and bacon fat and various bodily fluids, and paraded around from Art Museum to Art Museum to the delight of the same kind of credulous fools that P. T. Barnum pulled into his Big Top back in the day that America was capable of at least providing some genuine entertainment.

The Merry-Go-Round just goes round and round… The same fashions appear over and over. For each new generation of art students who think they’re experiencing something NEW while being prodded to come up with their own advance into the further reaches of Post-Modernist wonderment. If only they can expose some formerly hidden anatomical detail (dammit, Matthew Barney already did the perineum!!!) or some brand new substance to slather up in while wearing some brand new androgynous outfit to explore brand new frontiers of sexual confusion then they too might perform their own exotic pole dance for the tribes of money men out to make some fast bucks.

Ain’t decadence a bitch?

About trueoutsider

I'm an artist.
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4 Responses to The Pseudo-Mysticism of Matthew Barney

  1. This is summarized by one critic as “Barney’s cinematic art inspires both awe and revulsion, often simultaneously.” Indeed, the Village Voice featured two reviews, with art critic Jerry Saltz praising the cycle, and film critic J. Hoberman panning it.

    • trueoutsider says:

      Robbie, thanks. Without having known about the reviews I could have said with absolute certainty that Jerry Saltz would have had nothing but the highest praise for Barney’s immortal cinematic art. Barney provides Jerry Saltz everything he lives for. On the other hand, Hoberman was an excellent movie reviewer, in stark contrast to the invariable crap churned out in Village Voice art reviews.

      I’ll just put a paragraph of the Hoberman review here so those reading might get a fuller sense of the genius of Matthew Barney.

      Even worse, Cremaster 4 (1994) features the artist in goat-boy mode tap-dancing on the deck of an empty yacht as three naked, brawny, androgynous creatures in red Raggedy Ann wigs crouch at his feet. Any description makes the movie seem funnier than it is—-repeated exposure to the migraine-inducing Grand Prix intercut with the shipboard antics is guaranteed to freeze the chuckle in your throat. After this 40-minute structural exercise, Barney goes for baroque in the posh, lugubrious Cremaster 5 (1997), an hour-long piece that gives the ridiculous a bad name, alternating between the Budapest opera house and Hotel Gellert spa. Ursula Andress pretends to sing, but Barney is the real diva, climbing the theater walls—in four or five costumes, including another goaty getup.

  2. Matthew Barney was born in San Francisco in 1967; at age six, he moved to Idaho with his family. After his parents divorced, Barney continued to live with his father in Idaho, playing football on his high school team, and visiting his mother in New York City, where he was introduced to art and museums. This intermingling of sports and art informs his work as a sculptor and filmmaker. After graduating from Yale in 1991, Barney entered the art world to almost instant controversy and success. He is best known as the producer and creator of the “Cremaster” films, a series of five visually extravagant works created out of sequence (“Cremaster 4” began the cycle, followed by “Cremaster 1,” etc.). The films generally feature Barney in myriad roles, including characters as diverse as a satyr, a magician, a ram, Harry Houdini, and even the infamous murderer Gary Gilmore. The title of the films refers to the muscle that raises and lowers the testicles according to temperature, external stimulation, or fear. The films themselves are a grand mixture of history, autobiography, and mythology—an intensely private universe in which symbols and images are densely layered and interconnected. The resulting cosmology is both beautiful and complex. His final film in the series, “Cremaster 3” (2002), begins beneath New York City’s Chrysler Building and includes scenes at the Saratoga race track, where apparently dead costumed horses race through a dream sequence, and at the Guggenheim Museum, where artist Richard Serra throws hot Vaseline down the Museum’s famous spiral ramp. Matthew Barney won the prestigious Europa 2000 prize at the forty-fifth Venice Biennale in 1996. He was also the first recipient of the Guggenheim Museum’s Hugo Boss Award.

    • trueoutsider says:

      Thanks for the Barney bio, Harrison. I’m aware Barney is immensely successful and popular. And, yes, he throws together a hodge-podge of sensational material that allows art critics to blather and pontificate endlessly about its profound meaning. He even has one of the greatest blatherers of all time Norman Mailer in one of his films. Mailer, of course, wrote his epic account of the “infamous murderer” Gary Gilmore as if Gilmore were profoundly interesting social rebel. This, was a role Mailer ardently sought his entire life, even managing to perform a kind of murder by proxy by campaigning for the release of Jack Abbott. Six weeks after Abbott was released (due to the tireless importuning of the witless literati assembled by Mailer) stabbed an entirely innocent waiter to death in an Manhattan restaurant. Mailer did manage to stab somebody all on his own, his second wife twice. Having Norman Mailer in one’s films naturally guarantees hipness and avant-gardism.

      Perhaps some reader/critic might want to write in to illuminate the connection between Gary Gilmore and Harry Houdini and while they’re at it why not explain that how that connects to the opening and shutting their asshole with their sphincter muscle…. and the role the cremaster muscle would play in that activity. It’s no doubt of immense curiosity and profound meaning to art-goers nowadays.

      Richard Serra “throwing” Vaseline down the Guggenheim’s ramp is par for the course as one of his artistic achievements, and all of it fits right in with the invariable lineup of mediocrity that the Guggenheim has shown since Thomas Krens took directorship, disposing of works like that of Modigliani and Chagall in order to purchase groovy minimalists like Serra and Andre. Why hold onto artistic masterpieces when you can replace them with hip nullity?

      Incidentally, I think that everyone should pour Vaseline and any other kind of lube down the ramp of the Guggenheim. That’s about all the Museum is good for at this point, since they long ago gave up exhibiting any kind of art worth the price of admission. Of course, the Guggenheim has to undergo ceaseless repairs due to the monumental incompetence of Frank Lloyd Wright in it’s construction as well as the accomplishment of making the single most hostile piece of architecture I’m aware of for the viewing of paintings. Small wonder that the Museum has made their mission not to show any painting worth viewing.

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