Tuesday, February 13, 2007
The Patron, The Centerfold and the Ghost: Amy Misurelli Sorensen at the Matthew Barney Lecture
“Barney drops only a few crumbs for us to follow; we lose his trail in this lecture” by Amy Misurelli Sorensen
On January 31, I attended the lecture at the Hirshhorn Museum to hear Matthew Barney, art superstar, lead a discussion on his work and the work of Joseph Bueys.
Word of advice: leave your expectations at the door when attending any “meet the artist” lectures at the Hirshhorn. Do not expect a good discussion. Do not even expect to get in.
Matthew Barney is a celebrity; I anticipate a large crowd and a long line. I arrive at the museum three and a half hours early, and, yes, I get in, by luck, not democracy. The museum is unorganized and the rule “first come basis” does not apply to their wealthy patrons. I believe the wealthy patrons of The Hirshhorn receive tickets in advance, which allows them to stroll in minutes before to a guaranteed seat in the auditorium.
Upon entering the museum, I take my place in a line that snakes around the outside circle of the lobby. I am about fifty people deep in line. An hour prior to the lecture this line doubles, maybe triples upon itself. The museum staff concerns itself with the overwhelming amount of people still walking through the door an hour before, and neglects the two to three hundred people swarming their lobby that sacrificed their afternoon to see the great and magical Matthew Barney.
A half hour prior to the lecture, the staff is unaware where the line starts or ends. They begin to lead the various lines closest to the escalator downstairs to the auditorium. I am now about 150 people deep in line. How did all of these people get ahead of me? Who are some of these people, clad in jewelry and minks, and why did I not notice them three hours ago?
I thankfully take my seat and watch as people make their way into the auditorium. I am subdued from the four-hour wait, but perk up to the quiet welcome as Matthew Barney takes his seat on the stage. The welcome is quiet due to the overwhelming amount of seats left uninhabited. The museum has already sent the disappointed, unadmitted, upstairs crowd away, it is too late to rescue these empty seats, and a mediocre DC welcomes Barney.
The lecture begins with a Q&A between Nancy Spector and Matthew Barney. Nancy Spector is a curator at The Guggenheim Museum in New York and Berlin. She curates Barney’s Cremaster Exhibition in 2003 and curates the more recent collated project on the works of Matthew Barney and Joseph Beuys in Berlin. This exhibition “All in the Present Must Be Transformed” explores the affinities and differences between the works of Beuys and Barney, and is the anticipated focus of this discussion. However, poor Beuys only surfaces in this discussion as a ghost, and is silenced by the elusive Barney and the monstrosity of mystery in Barney’s presence and projects. The justification as to why the Beuys and Barney project exists is rooted in the concept of drawing and the significance of conceptual sketches for their theatrical, sight specific installations. This gives Nancy and Matthew something to circle around and around during the first portion of the lecture. I personally would like to hear more about fat and vaseline.
The dialogue on the Beuys and Barney Project is lost due to the reoccurring dialogues on Matthew’s Cremaster Cycle and Drawing Restraint Series. Specifically, Barney leads the discussion on his process, projects, and drawing experiences in relation to his athletic experiences, Harry Houdini, and the internal construction of self. Barney’s projects are inseparable, his career indivisible; and we are not able to draw a timeline from the last football game he participated in, to his bodies of work started at Yale, to the last finished project he conceived. The audience is the blimp, Barney the wind, and he floats us into a vat of confusion. The jumbled dialogues and the continuous stream of “Ummms” that keep flooding out of Barney’s mechanical mouth bore me. Has he suffered from too many football injuries to the head? I now find myself only engaged in the slides and have fallen into a subconscious state of picturing the handsome and athletic Barney in a pair of Calvin Klein underwear.
Matthew Barney is a myth and a poster boy for the superstar artists of our time. He is the celebrity, the centerfold model, the man of mystery, the MVP, the Oscar contender, and the sexist man of the year. However, as dissatisfied as I am with this lecture, his work I cannot discredit. Did I really expect him to give his secrets away? Did I expect to be invited into his world, a world I visually and psychologically love to get lost in? It is the myth that generates his success.
It is at the Guggenheim in 2003 during the installation of The Cremaster Cycle that I decided I wanted to be a committed artist. He inseminated me with a new awareness and passion for contemporary art and this lecture does not defeat my adoration for his works.