Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Though Named Barney, He Has Yet to Incorporate Purple Dinosaurs into his Work

After recently seeing a piece of performance art, I have to admit I am a performance art hater. I find it to be pretentious, self-indulgent non-sense. I know I am suppose to be contemplating the profound reason for why the artist is carrying the dead fish back and forth across a courtyard while strobe lights flash and someone bangs away at a drum kit like Animal from the Muppets for the better part of an hour. Instead I find I can only think that he is wasting a perfectly good fish. And yet for some reason, entirely despite myself, I am fascinated by the artist Matthew Barney… the most pretentious, self-indulgent non-sense performance artist/sculptor/film maker out there.

As with most of the art I like, I don’t entirely understand why I like it. When I was 16, I fell madly in love with the work of Marcel Duchamp, in particularly his Large Glass. Why? Because it was nutty and made no logical sense. I take that back. It made no rational sense, but it did have its own version of a weird convoluted logic that makes it “work.” Same thing with Barney.

For instance, here is a highly truncated description of the Cremaster Cycle, his 10+ hour opus. See if you can guess what it’s about: Busby Berkeley style formation dancing is happening below a blimp in which a woman dressed in silver is playing with grapes. Meanwhile, Gary Gilmore is riding a bull in an arena constructed entirely of salt as two people do a Texas two-step around an upside down saddle/disco ball. This, naturally, leads to five vintage cars playing demolition derby in the lobby of the Chrysler Building which, while under construction, is being used to perform shady Masonic rituals. Then the fighting of two giants in Ireland creates an island which is home to a side car race and a sharply dressed Loughton Ram who is frantically tap dancing through the floor. This ultimately results in a magician throwing himself Houdini like from a bridge in Budapest while Ursula Andress lip syncs (poorly, I might add) to opera. In case that summary didn’t make it glaringly obvious, this is all about gender differentiation. Duh.

Totally bonkers, right? But there I am, researching Freemasons, Mormonism, bees, Shinto rituals, whaling, and Bjorke to try to make sense of it all. Have I figured it out? I don’t even know if he’s figured it out. But I’ve learned a lot in the process. Mainly that I still think performance art is obnoxious, even when I like it.
posted by jw