Archive for February, 2006

Reflections on the Mathew Barney exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

February 4, 2006

New York, Saturday, February 04, 2006 

Reflections on the Mathew Barney exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York,  I would begin by reminding the curious to take a look at Caroline Tisdale’s catalog of the Joseph Beuys’ show at the Gugg in 1979 to get a better handle on the relationsip of Barney’s work at the Gugg last year. 

I was at that exhibition in 1979.  (The single most important exhibition I have ever seen at that institution.)  In fact, at the time a good friend John Halpern*, who was invited by Beuys to join his FIU (Free University) at the Documenta 6 exhibition in Kassel, Germany was making his film Transformer which documents Beuys’ installation.  I met Beuys several times during that period and accompanied John during several filmed interviews of Beuys at Ronald Feldman’s gallery and with Tom Messer at the Guggenheim, this was long before I worked there in the eighties. 

Barney’s exhibition clearly made numerous gestures to Beuys retrospective at the Guggenheim and having seen Barney’s over time, it is clear he sees himself in the ‘Beuysian’ model.  I witnessed Barney’s installation at Documenta IX and this project solidified his European presence, while making it clear that like Beuys, he is a sculptor of actions, installation and performance.

“He is influenced above all by the art of the 70s and he has drawn stimuli from its most important protagonists.” Documenta IX GUIDEBOOK

At Kassel, Barney took command of a wedge-like architectural remnant found in the Tiefgarage (subterranean parking garage) near the Ottoneum and made it the site of his intervention.  This is in itself a Beuys-like attention to ‘healing’ a forgotten space, referencing the creation of Beuys’ Tallow /1977 cast from a pedestrian underpass in Munster, Germany in 1977.  In fact the wedge-like castings are an element which Barney brings to the Guggenheim in 2002 with the cast salt elements which one found scattered along the ramps.  Even the rivers of liquid vaseline, which Barney runs down the parapet wall speak to the melted fat which Beuys used in works like Fat Corner /1960 and Tallow. 

At the Guggenheim one also finds that Barney has created a ‘prepared’ piano or harpsichord in this case.  Similar to Beuys’ Infiltration-homogen for grand piano /1966 Barney silences the instrument pouring concrete into the body cavity of the piano, both muteing it and creating a surrealist juxtaposition of potentials.

“In the normal sense a piano is an instrument used to produce sound. When not in use it is silent, but still has a sound potential. Here, no sound is possible and the piano is condemned to silence.”  Caroline Tisdale/STATION 18 from Joseph Beuys Guggenheim Catalog of 1979

* this text was changed to correct an earlier error, where Mr. Halpern was misidentified as a student of Beuys. Please see the comment to this article submitted by Mr. Halpern.