Art Matthew Barney at MOCA

Sculptures from the operatic film 'River of Fundament'

We have written before about Matthew Barney’s astonishing, epic, operatic film ‘River of Fundament’ and a selection of sculptures that feature in the film which were exhibited at Sadie Coles. The film is based on Norman Mailer’s ‘Ancient Evenings’ addressing themes such as death, regeneration and rebirth set in ancient Egypt. Now, The  Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, located in the Little Tokyo district in Los Angeles, presents a magnificent overview showing all the large-scale sculptures that feature in the film, storyboards, sketches and drawings. The show also includes an intriguing video which was created in situ and a new series of ‘Water Casts’ sculptures.

MatthewBarney200percentmagMOCA is located in a former police car warehouse renovated by Frank Gehry. The space works complementary with the nature of the sculptures which are raw, massive and industrial. Also three generations of American cars feature prominently in the film including the 2001 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor.

MatthewBarney200percentmag1MatthewBarney200percentmag7The works are positioned in enclosed rooms and open spaces. When you mount the stairs you have a great overview of the space and look from above on the sculptures displayed on the floor.

MatthewBarney200percentmag12The Water Castings consist of fourteen sculptures that refer to the Egyptian myth of Osiris whose body was cut into fourteen pieces. Moca exhibits eight of the fourteen ‘Water Castings’, Regen Projects in West Hollywood, exhibits six sculptures.

MatthewBarney200percentmag13Isha Welsh, director of the gallery, tells me how the sculptures were conceived. Molten bronze was poured into a pit of bentonite clay silt. As the bronze comes into contact with the moisture, the metal violently displaces the water and finds its way into the crevices between the pieces of clay, eventually hardening and resulting in random forms.

MatthewBarney200percentmag10MatthewBarney200percentmag9The structure of the sculptures reminds me of the fragility of coral or the porosity of Kletskoppen (crunchy, thin cookies from Belgium) but Welsh tells me that they are very solid and very heavy. For ‘Water Cast 12: White Dwarf’ Barney used the same process and polycaprolactone, a material he worked with before such as in ‘Imperial Mask’. Just like the composer John Cage, Barney adopts chance techniques creating fascinating, unpredictable forms impossible to model and cast by hand.

MatthewBarney200percentmag8In the same room as ‘Boat of Ra’ stands a massive block on wood sleds, a sculpted carbon megalith with an edge sticking out, that weighs 2286 kilograms. The title is ‘Portcullis Block’ and features in the video ‘Drawing Restraint 23’ that is part of an ongoing series of drawings made in situ during a live performance. It is inspired by Barney’s fascination with the fact that the human body needs resistance in order to develop muscular strength and he translated that idea into a drawing. The video that has no audio, starts with a man tying the block with ropes on the wood sleds. In the next scene eight female American Football players enter the MOCA exhibition space. Their attire is all black and they look tough and sexy at the same time wearing helmets and athletic mini shorts. They start dragging the edge of the block throughout the exhibition space close to the walls leaving uneven traces of graphite on the wall. It’s fascinating to see how they work together as a group and to watch the amount of energy and effort of pulling and pushing the block throughout the gallery. The performance makes reference to the film ‘River of Fundament’ as Egyptians transported giant stones on sleds for building their pyramids.

MatthewBarney200percentmag4MatthewBarney200percentmag5MatthewBMatthew Barney is part of a group of artists who are makers and doers and their work has got a physical quality. Just like in Matthew Day Jackson, Mark Bradford and Thomas Houseago works, the creative process is visible and traceable in the final result. It is ‘Generative Art’ where they use systems of chemistry, biology and mechanics where ‘happy accidents’ can occur. The final result can not be predicted as the work unfolds and makes us realise that most of the beautiful things in art occur when you let them happen.

Written by Thierry Somers

From top to bottom
-Shaduf, 2014, cast brass
-DJED, 2009-2011, Cast iron and graphite block
-Trans America, 2014, Cast sulfur, epoxy resin and wood
-Water Cast 5, 2015, Cast bronze,
-Water Cast 12: White Dwarf’, 2015, Cast bronze, bronze chain and polycaprolactone displayed at Regen Projects
-Imperial Mask, 2014, cast polycaprolactone, steel, lapis lazuli, turquoise, carnelian, agate, polyethylene, gold plate, cast copper, bronze and brass.
-Drawing Restraint 23, 2015, HD Video
-Canopic Chest, 2009 – 2011, Cast bronze
-Rouge battery, 2014, Cast copper and iron
-Boat of Ra, 2014, wood, cast bronze, gold plated bronze, resin-bonded sand, steel