Magazine article The Spectator

Pretentious and Perverted

Magazine article The Spectator

Pretentious and Perverted

Article excerpt

Exhibitions 2

Matthew Barney: The Cremaster Cycle Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York, until 11 June

It was about a decade ago that Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times declared that Matthew Barney was `the greatest American artist of his generation'. It takes a lot to inspire people to snigger at art critics from the Times these days, so regularly do they applaud the banal, the repellent, the merely ugly. Kimmelman's encomium did the trick, though. After all, Matthew Barney was the chap who liked to swan about naked in front of a video camera while smearing himself with Vaseline. Among the important works that made such a deep impression on Kimmelman were `Blind Perineum' and `Mile High Threshold: Flight with the anal sadistic warrior'. You get the picture.

Well, Kimmelman is tired of people laughing at him. When Matthew Barney's Cremaster cycle opened at the Guggenheim Museum on 21 February, he rushed into print to 'amend' his earlier judgment. `Hands down,' Kimmelman wrote, Matthew Barney `is ... the most compelling, richly imaginative artist to emerge in years. Cremaster... gives us an inspired benchmark of ambition, scope and forthright provocation for art in the new century.'

Can we have a brief reality check?

What you see in the Guggenheim are three things: first, a bunch of video screens which continuously broadcast the five parts of Barney's Cremaster cycle; second, scattered from top to bottom along the spiral ramp of the rotunda are photographs - in `self-lubricating frames' - and various props used in the videos (Barney calls them 'sculptures'); third, there are troughs of oozing Vaseline along the inside wall of the spiral walkway. (The Vaseline, incidentally, was a problem for the Guggenheim, since they needed a ton of the stuff and some of it had to be kept air-conditioned so that it could be sculpted and hold its shape. The museum had to get a special permit from the city to build a temporary shed on the roof of its landmark building to house the needed machinery.)

This description does not convey the

mind-numbing banality of the exhibition. No description could. It's ineffable, beyond the power of words: it's like a huge pile of industrial rubbish laced with some icky organic matter, accompanied by a nonsensical soundtrack and series of flickering images.

For those who have left their Gray's Anatomy at home, I should explain that 'cremaster' is the muscle that raises and lowers the testicles. …

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