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Matthew Barney is a multi-talented sculptor, film-maker, and photographer, among other titles that may be applied to him. He is most famous for his expansive Cremaster Cycle, a series of five surreal and stimulating films produced out of order over the course of a decade or so. The films are named after the muscle that controls the movement of the testicles in accordance with outside stimulation (such as weather conditions). Here is a simple Cremaster timeline:
Cremaster 4 - 1994
Cremaster 1 - 1995
Cremaster 5 - 1997
Cremaster 2 - 1999
Cremaster 3 - 2002

Matthew Barney was born in 1967 in San Francisco. He went to Yale University, where he graduated in 1989. His early work became quickly controversial due to its blatant and somewhat disturbing sexuality. His studio looked more like some kind of perverse laboratory, as he built such installation pieces as an enormous harness to provide weight-lifting style resistance while he attempted to make a brushstroke on a canvas. This was part of his Drawing Restraint series, a sort of obstacle course through which he had to pass to create basic canvas artwork. Another early piece, MILE HIGH Threshold: FLIGHT with the ANAL SADISTIC WARRIOR, is a video showing Barney, connected to a series of S&M-style harnesses and bondage gear and suspended from the ceiling by titanium ice screws, leaping around his studio and filling all his bodily orifices with vaseline. Additionally, his sculpture TRANSEXUALIS (decline) (1991) was a weight-lifting bench cast entirely out of hardened petroleum jelly.

From my own insufficient descriptions, you might be drawing a picture of Barney in your head as some sort of juvenile provacateur who has become hyped due to his own shock value. This would be a false assessment, however. Barney's art is a fascinating combination of a variety of influences that has more depth to it than it may seem at first. Elements in his work range from masculine weight-lifting imagery, to classical opera and literature, to death metal.

Furthermore, the Cremaster Cycle, undeniably his magnum opus, can hardly be dismissed as simplistic or juvenile. It is a truly stunning exploration of male sexuality told through a constantly-shifting kaleidoscope of mythology, mutation, and grandiose art direction. Filled with everything from satyrs to zeppelins to famous figures like Harry Houdini and Gary Gilmore, the Cremaster Cycle is a truly impressive achievement that begs to be experienced.

The Cremaster Cycle is currently being exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. For more information on the Cremaster cycle and Barney's work, consult http://www.matthewbarney.com.

Most of this information from the book Matthew Barney: The Cremaster Cycle by Nancy Spector.

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