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A boatload of goo and other odd sights
on May 24, 2007
I think Matthew Barney is a consistently intriguing artist, but I must admit I generally find the criticism of his work far more interesting than the actual product he creates; the response is often richer than the statement. And while that sounds like an insult, I can't think of many other artists who occupy such a unique creative situation. Michael Bay, maybe?
Barney's sculptures and his video installations are a chunky milkshake of surrealism, egoism, metaphor, vanity, pretension, imagination, cliches both unintentional and subverted, and often lots and lots of goo. He spends a lot of time reflecting on Gary Gilmore and the mechanisms of the scrotum, and his films have featured such aged, awesome monuments as the Utah salt flats, the Chrysler Building and Norman Mailer (in the role of Houdini). Barney, too, often turns up, either dancing or climbing or crawling or facing the odd ordeal of having live airborne doves connected by strings to his penis.
There's almost no way to describe his work without sounding tongue-in-cheek to some degree, but on many levels I really like it. His languid, usually glacial pace, however, is no laughing matter. Even as someone who checks it all out, I've suspected the long running times have something to with the possibility that, if things moved any faster, these installations would be a lot harder to take seriously; they might be indistinguishable from some of the videos by underground bands that aired after 1 a.m. on MTV during the mid-1980s.
"No Restraint" is both a brief history of Barney and a look at his latest work, "Drawing Restraint 9." We get a good look at his early pieces -- workout equipment encased in Vaseline; taped footage of the former college football star creating art while being pulled away from his work by bunjee cords -- as well as glimpses of his Cremaster series. But most of the movie concerns the making of "9" in Japan and on a whaling ship. Much petroleum jelly is harmed during the making of this film.
If you're interested in Barney, you'll probably be interested in this. But as I watched it I wished the filmmakers had taken a different approach. Their style, like Barney's, is clean and very bright and paced on the draggy side. I would've liked to have seen this documentary go in the opposite direction and present its subject with a little more inventiveness and energy, something that didn't look so much like an electronic press kit. As it is, "No Restraint" is informative but it lacks that engaging, atypical hook or approach that can make a film like this really sing.