Note: The content on is accessible to any web browser or http client. However, this browser may not support basic Web standards, preventing the display of our site's design details. We support the mission of the Web Standards Project in the campaign encouraging users to upgrade their browsers.

[ skip navigation ]

edit player prefs


watch trailer
Director: Matthew Barney


By Jorg Koch for i-D Magazine

Applauded as "ultimately the most important American artist of his generation" by New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman, Matthew Barney is the art star du jour thanks to his five-part epic CREMASTER film saga, based on the evolution of form. Originally slated to open this spring at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the retrospective "Matthew Barney: THE CREMASTER CYCLE" is now showing at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne (including the European premier of the last part of the Cycle, CREMASTER 3) before it travels to Paris and New York. Barney connected the exhibition surface in Museum Ludwig with its cinema hall by a coloured Astroturf floor mat: a link to the American Football stadium in his hometown of Boise, Idaho, which is laid with the same material and which was the setting for CREMASTER 1. So, by entering the exhibition, you are suddenly in the middle of the strange, eccentric cosmos of the former football player Matthew Barney, whose films are accompanied by photographs, flags, bizarre sculptures and installations made out of vaseline. Welcome to THE CREMASTER CYCLE. Eschewing chronological order like an avant-garde George Lucas, Matthew Barney started with CREMASTER 4 in 1994 and completed the cycle with CREMASTER 3 in 2002. It is named after the CREMASTER, the muscle that regulates the height of the testicles in the male body, based on outside temperature or inner emotions. In Barney's work, the term refers to the idea of gender undifferentiation, which characterises a foetus' first seven weeks in the uterus before the sexual organs ascend to form a female or descend to form a male body. This undefined state is the departing point for Matthew Barney to relentlessly explore the evolution of form through fantastical allegories and metaphors encompassing biology, classic mythology, religion and Hollywood culture. One thing always signifies another. As curator Nancy Spector writes: "In his work, Barney is transcribing a new post-Oedipal myth for our contemporary culture. His version is a counter-narrative that depicts internal conflict rather than external mastery; it is an epic saga in which definition is defied and resolution perpetually deferred. In contrast to the tragedy of Oedipus Rex, paternal law need not be overcome because it simply does not exist. Instead, form engenders form through a radical cycle of discipline, self-division and resistance." Matthew Barney's auto-erotic myth-making results in an imagineering whose hysterical beauty and opulent splendour is unmatched by any other contemporary artist. The dreamlike, never-ending stream of associations and images overwhelms the viewer.