Matthew Barney

American (San Francisco, California, 1967)

Matthew Barney's ambitious and distinctive body of work has comprised performance, video, film, photography, drawing, sculpture, and installation.

Born in 1967 in San Francisco, Barney grew up in the Bay Area and Boise, Idaho. He initially registered in premedical studies at Yale University but eventually transferred to the art department. There he created performance-based installations and videos informed both by his experiences as a high school athlete and by his interest in biology and the human body. These early works dramatized the restraints placed on the body (Barney's body, in particular), and its potential to transcend them.

Since his rise to prominence in the early 1990s, Barney's epic projects have addressed — sometimes cryptically — themes including biology, geology, art history, metaphysics, film genres, and cult heroes. He has developed his central concerns by taking on a breathtaking array of cultural and historical allusions: from ancient Greek satyrs to Busby Berkeley, from Harry Houdini to Richard Serra, from Freemasonry to Japanese whaling.

His recent work, such as the expansive CREMASTER film cycle, employs biomorphic imagery and industrial materials (most famously petroleum jelly) to connect these diverse references and create a new language for the mythology of our existence.


From June 3, 2013, through early 2016, SFMOMA's building on Third Street in San Francisco will be temporarily closed for expansion construction. Selected artworks in our collection are included in a range of off-site exhibitions during this period. We regret that the remainder of the collection will not be available for study during this time.

In the meantime, we invite you to explore a wide selection of our collection online. Please note that the information presented online is subject to revision. Please contact us at collections@sfmoma.org to verify artwork details.

This resource is for educational use and its contents may not be reproduced without permission. Please review our Terms of Use for more information.