I survived Cremaster 3 T-shirtOK, before I talk about how seeing The Cremaster Cycle straight through changed my understanding of Matthew Barney's work, let me get a couple of things out of the way:
1) FLW didn't design those theater chairs to be sat in at all, much less for eight hours in one day Aggressive, non-user-centered architecture should be taken out and shot.
2) Best overheard comment after Cremaster 1, when a guy at a suddenly partially visible urinal complained that the mens room door was being propped open by the line: "We just spent 45 minutes in someone's ovaries. I'm sure no one cares about seeing you take a piss."
3) I don't know what country you're from, and frankly, I don't care. On this island, we keep our hands off the freakin' art, especially when there are signs and guards at every piece. And if you pull the dumb foreigner shtick every time a guard tells you not to touch something, I'll bust you again.
3.1) I swear, between this show and the MoMA QNS opening, I may never loan anything I own to a museum again.
3.2) What really makes me mad, is that now I'm all jingoistic, when I should just be anti-B&T. Oy, the world we live in...

Cremaster 4 Vitrine, Matthew Barney, from Sotheby's, image:artnet.comNet net: Matthew Barney's films are worth seeing, again, and in order. They're the strongest expression of what he's doing. He may call himself a sculptor, but that's just a numbers game. He clearly exerts phenomenal time/effort/thought on materials, objects and spaces; but the experience of his sculptures pales to that of the films (and the experience of sculpture-in-film). Likewise, his drawings--which are small, precious, slight, almost invisible--get subsumed by their giant sculpted vitrines.

An extremely useful/interesting educational aid is The Gospel Cremaster Cycle (According to Neville Wakefield), an exhaustive catalog/glossary which functions like an encyclopedia of Barney's universe. It weighs like a hundred pounds, though, so plan be home when it ships; you don't want to carry it back from the post office (or the Guggenheim, for that matter).

There are a few exceptions: I found the flags and banners interesting, and some metal objects (e.g., the Masonic tools from C3) are exquisite. The mirrored saddle is in a class by itself (yeah, there are at least two, but only one's on exhibit). [An art market side note: I don't know, but a significant number of the C3 work is large, institution-sized, and all "courtesy Barbara Gladstone Gallery," almost as if it's a showroom for out-of-town curators. All that's missing is a "to the trade only" sign in the window.]

As for the photographs, which I'd liked best going in, most feel inexplicably lifeless compared to the films they came from. Barney can create absolutely stunning images, but they're on film, where stunning often morphs into mesmerizing. It's telling that while the photos reproduce very well, I could only find one image of a Barney vitrine online--from an auction report; even though they're display cases, these non-filmic sculptures seem innoculated against reproduction.

Cremaster 1 still, Matthew Barney, image: pbs.orgThe films hold up very well, but as film-as-art, not art-as-film. Consecutive viewing (as opposed to the in order they were made) strengthens both their thematic/narrative and their visual impact. I was surprised to realize how many elements are from Barney's own life/world/story; it was unexpectedly personal, as opposed to issue/metaphor-driven.

In his review, J. Hoberman says that the press screenings for the whole Cycle were sparsely attended; he (like everyone else, he concludes) prefers the ambient, less demanding mode of watching a few minutes on the gallery flatscreens. "One scarcely staggers from this six-and-a-half-hour magnum opus inclined to proclaim the second coming of David Lynch�or even Julian Schnabel," he writes, in full "when you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail" mode.

Cremaster 2 still, Matthew Barney, image: bienniale of sydneyWhich makes Barney's claim to be a sculptor, not a filmmaker, relevant. He's asserting his identity as an artist. Cremaster 2, which Hoberman slammed the hardest as a film, is one of the most haunting and beautiful works of art I've seen. Jeremy Blake told me Paul Thomas Anderson had asked him, "Man, why do artists have their heads so far up their asses sometimes?" "They like the smell," Jeremy deadpanned. "But seriously, it's introspection. Contemplation. You should try it sometime."

In my budding filmmaker mode, I had had some of the same complaints as Hoberman (ie., simplistic camera angles, AWOL editing), but his glib dismissal of Cremaster says more about the diminished expectations and limits of film. Sure, movie directors think they're God, and Barney's conjured up a complete, system of symbols and myths that'd make the Catholic Church proud. Whether that means he thinks he's God, Jesus, or the Pope, I can't say, but at least he isn't the second coming of Julian Schnabel.

I'm watching the entire Cremaster Cycle today, a Friday feature of the Guggenheim show. In the mean time, Matthew Barney's site,, is up and running. Check out the trailer; it's beautiful. And it doesn't take all day (unless you're on a dialup).

In the mean time, brace yourself and go see Olivier Assayas' Demonlover tomorrow at Lincoln Center's Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series (or, if you insist, Rendez-vous with Freedom Cinema series. Assayas will be at the screeningNow who's all PC?) Read about it in Film Comment, where Gavin Smith saw it at Cannes. Smith called it the best undistributed film of 2002. Assayas'll be there. Order tickets online, if you can. Yesterday's screening sold out++. Assayas was there yesterday, too, and we talked a bit about collaborating with anime studios, CG'ers, and Sonic Youth.

Creating an army of shopping clones, one Safeway Club Card at a time, image: cockeyed.comA NYT article about Cockeyed's great barcode hack, written by David F. Gallagher (the Lightning Field one, not the shirtless one. "F." must stand for "fully clothed." David, you have my sympathies. At least you're going up against a real person. I'm still being out-Googled by an ad-agency caricature, an off-the-air bunny puppet, and a friend of Dharma, two if you count Greg Louganis.)

Rob Cockerham is distributing clones of his Safeway card online, thereby commenting on/thwarting the supermarket's tracking him and and "his" purchases (which "he" now makes in stores all over the country, as far as Safeway knows, anyway).

Interesting that this article appears in the Times. Whenever I'm traveling and airdrop into a netcafe, or login to from someone else's computer, I've always saved my login info on that machine. Over the years, I've wondered what the Times thought of my appearing in dozens of places at once. (They had enough, I guess; a few months ago, they started expiring their cookies after 30 days.)

Other barcode links: Peter Coffin's Free Biennial art project, Scott Blake's Barcode Art site [both via Wooster Collective] And in the view of many End Time pundits, barcodes are the "mark of the beast." Left Behind's 8th book was called The Mark, as this Australian


US Attorney/curator with posters of Rothko, Bacon, deKooning and either Twombly or Clemente,
purchased by Sam Waksal with an 8.25% discount, at least.

In the grand tradition of deposed CEO's, but with downtown sensibility (and far better taste), Sam Waksal pleaded guilty to evading sales tax on $15 million in paintings he purchased through a major New York dealer. It was the old, "send it to my factory in NJ, nah, just fax the invoice there" ploy, which has been tripping up art world naifs since the 80's, at least. (Clearly, it's worth it to work it and get your 10% discount from the dealer instead.) Waksal's lawyer tells the Washington Post that his client was "not the architect of the scheme." Yow.

Since no report names all nine works involved, here it is, a exclusive:

  • Mark Rothko, Untitled - Plum and Brown - $3.5m. Didn't reach $2-3m estimate at Sotheby's last May. Pic above, or buy a painted copy of it online for $275 [!!?].
  • Francis Bacon, Study from the Human Body - $3m. Also unsold at Sotheby's, against a $2.5-3.5m estimate. City Review has the war story of the failed sales.
  • Franz Kline, Mahoning II - $3m (via the Posts. Mahoning is in the Whitney.)
  • Willem deKooning Untitled V - $2.4m (via NYNewsday and AP/ABC).
  • Roy Lichtenstein, Landscape with Seated Figure - $900k. (via AP/ABC)
  • Cy Twombly, Untitled (Rome) and Solar Barge of Sesostris - $1.3m and $800k. (via Boston Globe. The first was exhibited at Knoedler in 2000, and the second was shown in 2001 by the Dealer.
  • Francesco Clemente, Lovers - $60k. (via The Post.) Eh. For a Clemente, you risk jail? A definite Koslowski moment.

    That adds up to $14,960,000. Any guess what the last, $40,000 work could be? According to the Times, it's Richard Serra. His sculptures can go for more than $1m, but $40k for a painting is doable. What's more, these last three artists show with the Dealer. Waksal can brag about the sweet deal he got on them, all while paying the Dealer super-retail for what amounts to personal shopping.

    [Update: The NYPost pegs Waksal's total at $15.31 million, which means the Serra was $350,000. That sounds like Sam didn't even get a discount on the in-house stuff. No wonder he's fingering The Dealer. Update #2: Turns out the Serra was titled, The American flag is not an object of worship. Don't let FoxNews get wind of that sale.]

  • FGT-N-2-SC.jpg
    Untitled (Republican Years), Felix Gonzalez-Torres, 1992
    currently in "Stacked" at D'Amelio Terras

    If you are boycotting the French right now, you're a loser. They're putting on some of the best shows in town. Additions to an incomplete list:

  • "Back Grounds," at Andrew Kreps [Dude, get a website!] a show of intricately made B&W photographs by Liz Deschenes, James Welling, and Adolphe Humbert de Molard. Curated by Olivier Renaud-Clement.
  • "Stacked," a group show of, well, stacked works at D'Amelio Terras.
  • "Architecture and Furniture by Jean Prouv� at Sonnabend," with Galerie Patrick Seguin, including remarkable 1950 pieces from the Air France office in Brazzaville, Congo.
  • "The Extravagant Vein," at Marianne Boesky. Drawings, video projection and oil painting by Donald Moffett.
  • Photographs by gallery artists at Andrea Rosen, including Craig Kalpakjian's proposal for creating an earthwork on the moon (which would, by definition, not be an earthwork).
  • Douglas Gordon at Gagosian. What's the big deal? Or, more precisely, what's the big deal with "big?"

  • February 28, 2003

    On A Big Art Thursday

    Last night at a friend's house, Jeremy Blake showed us some recent work and talked about it.

  • and by "house," I mean a sprawling, gorgeous Fifth Avenue apartment filled with pictures of supermodels (not kissing ones, but just hanging out ones)
  • and by "some," I mean two of his DVD-based pieces, including Blossoms and Blood, a beautiful, expressive short film he made with Paul Thomas Anderson and Jon Brion for the Punch-Drunk Love cast and friends. It's a closely interwoven mix of scenes from the movie, Jeremy's paintings, and Brion's music.
  • and by "recent," I mean the DVD was still warm. 1906 is the just-finished second part of a trilogy about the Winchester Mansion, which combines 8mm film, paintings, and an organ/symphony/film projector-interlaced soundtrack. It's eerie, moody, historically rich and beautiful.
  • and by "talked," I mean blew people away with passion, articulate discussion of his work and his process, and intelligence regarding the context it inhabits. One thing that surprised me: Even after "air-dropping from the farthest margins into the center of the film world," and working with one of the most famously creatively empowered directors, Jeremy finds that artists actually have it pretty good, in terms of freedom to "pursue subjectivity" with their work.

    The New Museum previewed a strong group show, "Living Inside the Grid," where Dan Cameron exercises his international muscles in advance of the Istanbul Biennial. There are some obvious (and thus, intentional) omissions, but many nice pieces, including a creepy-sleek prison door by Elmgreen & Dragset.

    And finally, while I didn't make the opening, the after-party came to us at dinner: The Whitney opens a show about Diller + Scofidio, architects who have PR-muscled their way to the front of the technology/media stage. Eager to make amends for the dustup caused by his baldly partisan, king-making articles about the WTC redesign, the NYTimes' Herbert Muschamp returns to clear-eyed, of-the-people objectivity in his review. Here's the first paragraph:

    The search for intelligent life in architecture is artfully rewarded at the Whitney Museum's retrospective of the work of Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, New York's brainiest architectural team. But intelligent visitors will have to pick their way through a few unwelcome booby traps: curatorial winks and nods designed to dumb things down for the chimerical unsophisticates to whom far too many museum shows today are needlessly pitched.

  • February 21, 2003

    On Museums On eBay

    This AP story [via the cool] from Indianapolis sounds like the tip of the iceberg: museum curators using ebay to add to their collections.

    My conversations about eBay with various curator friends all follow a predictable a trajectory: surprise that we're both eBay whores; polite envy over what the other scored; caginess over what we're looking for now; relief when we find out we're looking for different stuff; quick detente and an exchange of usernames when we find out we're buying the same stuff.

    Of course, now eBay's gonna turn my butt in to the Feds, as the EFF reports they're all too eager to do.

    February 21, 2003

    On Wooster Collective

    As I arrived at Gawker's launch party last week, I ran into some friends from my old consulting days. (I guess it's Nick's job to know everybody, and he does.) Anyway, their shoutout just before the elevator door closed, "we have a weblog, Wooster Collective" should be nominated for Undersell Of The Year.

    Gucci sidewalk photo, artist unknown, image:

    Wooster Collective is a hoppin' arena of grafitti, stickers, stencil art and other street art, with updates coming more frequently than the 4-5-6 train at rush hour. In a remarkably short time, they've tapped into a sprawling network of artists and fans who contribute great stuff from far beyond Wooster.

    Some highlights: Posters of sidewalks by Gucci, et al; Peter Coffin's barcode stickers [Peter, you gotta tell me about this stuff...]; and Dan Witz interview, whose trompe l'oeil graf works are stunning.

    Matthew Barney as Gary Gilmore, but it's about that belt buckle,
    Yeah, I want a Cremaster belt buckle, but not if it means
    getting executed in a salt arena... image:

    'cuz it's gonna be all we talk and hear about for months (at least until Matrix Reloaded comes out). We're just suckers for an entirely fabricated, all-encompassing, and disturbing worldview. (What, the imagined world of Wolfowitz ain't scary enough?)

    Anyway, in the Times, Michael Kimmelman gets all sticky for the Cremaster show, which opens today at the Guggenheim. Note to all: Fridays through June 6, are hereby set aside for watching the entire 5-film Cycle, in order. You will be graded on this.

    Note to MB: If Prada teaches the world anything, it's to actually have a site up when you go wide with a marquee URL.

    February 12, 2003

    On Thomas Struth On Art

    Alte Pinakothek, Selftportrait, Munich, 2000, Thomas Struth

    The other night, I heard the photographer Thomas Struth talk about his work. A friend (who has a far more serious art habit than even I do) hosted a reception for the artist in his office. Extra Struths, brought out of storage for the evening, rested on stacks of printer paper, an installation technique you don't see at the artist's current one-man show at the Met.

    Struth spoke very quietly, but determinedly, about his work and the ideas and process behind it. He's clearly contemplative, and some of his most well-known works are unabashedly about contemplation (his Paradise junglescapes and his photos of museumgoers). He described his decades-long relationship with the 1500 self-portrait of Albrecht Durer (above) and his fascination with its unusual gaze. By putting himself in the photo (that's Struth's shoulder), he wanted to capture a moment of a conversation, while readily allowing that the two figures may not be saying anything to each other.

    He caught me off guard, though, by referring to the photo's cinematic character; but sure enough, the framing, blocking and "sightlines" are from one half of a shot/reverse-shot, the continuity editing staple for depicting a two-person conversation. Struth wanted to portray a conversation that crosses 500 years (he shot it in 2000), a long-term perspective Struth finds shamefully absent today.

    "No one [in the current political situation] looks forward even 50 years; they only look to their next election." Struth then ruminated on art worlders and what they could do to pull the real world back from the brink of war. "We're here, in the office of [one of the wealthiest men in the world], there are so many influential people in the art world. Why don't people use this powerful social network" to avert this global disaster?

    Nervous silence, nervous chatter, and then a spurt of panged/defensive hands, as a few people tried to explain how our "standing here sipping champagne" was actually alright. An older guy with a Palm Beach tan leaned over and murmured to me, "I think we're going in the wrong direction." "That's exactly what he's talking about," I deadpanned, "Oh, you mean the conversation." Soon, we returned, quickly, safely, and completely, to discussions of how, exactly, he was able to get that amazing shot of the Parthenon. ("Because I've tried to shoot it every time I go, and it's just so dark!")

    One implication in Struth's photo, which cannot be avoided, of course, is our own responsibility. Shot/reverse-shot technique uses two components to establish the shared space; a reverse shot is needed. It would be a shot of Struth (and all of us, in the present day, standing in museums and galleries and private collections) from the perspective of Durer's painted space, maybe over the 16th-century artist's shoulder, a shot looking far into the future.

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    Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

    Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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