The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, announced today the joint acquisition of Matthew Barney’s most recent work, CREMASTER 2: The Drones’ Exposition. SFMOMA and the Walker are the first museums in the United States to acquire an installation from Barney’s elaborate and critically acclaimed CREMASTER series, an epic sequence of multimedia installations that has been likened to a contemporary Ring Cycle. First presented in Minneapolis in summer 1999 in an exhibition organized by the Walker, CREMASTER 2 will have its West Coast premiere at SFMOMA on May 20 and will remain on view through September 5, 2000.
“It’s encouraging that two prestigious institutions can cooperate in this way,” said Barney. “It sets a precedent that could benefit artists who are working at a scale that is challenging to collect.”
Both institutions have a long-standing relationship with Matthew Barney’s work. His first solo museum exhibition was at SFMOMA in 1991. The Walker is the only museum in the U.S. to have all of Barney’s CREMASTER films in its collection. “CREMASTER 2 is not only the most integrated and elaborate work in the CREMASTER series, but it also references Barney’s roots in the West,” stated SFMOMA Director David A. Ross. “We are delighted to add this installation to an already notable collection of his work in the Museum’s permanent collection. Furthermore, we are extremely pleased to partner with the Walker in this extraordinary joint acquisition, which provides both institutions with access to the full installation as well as the opportunity to present selections of individual elements, which unto themselves are remarkable.”
“Barney’s work is a perfect reflection of the Walker’s multidisciplinary mission by virtue of his unique combination of sculpture, installation, performance, and film,” said Walker Chief Curator Richard Flood. “He is one of the artists to who whom the Walker has made a long-term commitment to collect, and we are delighted that SFMOMA joined us in this enlightened custodial partnership.”
Throughout the CREMASTER series—named after the muscle that controls the ascending and descending of the testicles—Barney layers diverse landscapes and characters, biography and history to create his own mythological universe. The installation CREMASTER 2: The Drones’ Exposition includes sculptures, photographs, and drawings that reference and elaborate themes and motifs explored in a feature-length 35-millimeter film (running time: 79 minutes). Critically hailed as one of the most crucial artists of his generation, Barney peoples the hallucinatory landscape of his film and its related installation with bees, bison, heavy-metal drummers, magicians, mediums, Mounties, and two-steppers. An artist who works in diverse media, Barney considers himself primarily a sculptor; his films, sculpture. In CREMASTER 2, an anteroom with nylon cabinets filled with crystallized barbells (dipped in concentrated saline), a salt sculpture of a mountain range, flags and a silver mirrored riding saddle opens into a room-sized installation containing a suite of photographs of glaciers and nylon bleachers, on which visitors may sit to view the film.
The film is an elliptical narrative that traces the rise and fall of antihero Gary Gilmore, convicted killer and alleged grandson of Harry Houdini. Loosely based on The Executioner’s Song, Norman Mailer’s Pulitzer Prize–winning chronicle of Gilmore’s life and death, the film moves from the sweeping vistas of a glacier field in the Canadian Rockies to the Bonneville Salt Flats, from Chicago in 1893 to Utah in 1976. Featured in the cast of CREMASTER 2 are Mailer (as Houdini) and Dave Lombardo, former lead drummer for the band Slayer. Barney himself takes on the role of Gary Gilmore. Composer Jonathan Bepler created an original musical score for the film, with vocals by Steve Tucker of Morbid Angel and Patty Griffin.
Matthew Barney was born in San Francisco in 1967, raised in Idaho and attended Yale University, receiving a B.A. in 1989. In 1991, SFMOMA was the first museum to exhibit and acquire Barney’s work, including his first major installation Transexualis, 1991, which includes a walk-in cooler, decline bench, and videos DELAY OF THE GAME and ANAL SADISTIC WARRIOR. SFMOMA’s permanent collection also includes FIELD DRESSING (Orifill): Manual, 1993, and REPRESSIA, 1991. Soon after his museum debut, his work began to be included in major international group exhibitions, including Documenta and the Venice Biennale, and museum exhibitions at the Tate Gallery in London; the Kunsthall in Bern, Switzerland, and the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art in Paris. A mid-career survey exhibition of his work was organized in 1995 at the Boymans-van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, and a second solo exhibition followed at SFMOMA in 1996. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, will present an exhibition of the entire CREMASTER cycle of films and sculpture in February 2002.
The Walker began collecting Barney’s work in 1993. Included in the museum’s collection are the intermedia installation DRAWING RESTRAINT 7, 1993, as well as the films (and related vitrines) of CREMASTER 4, 1994, CREMASTER 1, 1995, and CREMASTER 5, 1997; and commissioned special edition etchings and proofs related to CREMASTER 2: The Drones’ Exposition.