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Old 11-22-2003, 03:17 PM
Randy Randy is offline
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 179
November Issue Letter to the Editor

Glenn --

First of all congratulations on the November 2003 issue as a whole, I thought it one of the best overall reads of the five years I have been taking the magazine. Sarah Sze turned out to be a timely choice for the cover and feature, as she earned the coveted MacArthur "Genius" Grant last month. The flow from Ginger Danto's article on Alain Kirili and his connection with David Smith to Robert Morgan's essay on Smith was poignant and pregnant with related themes. Ana Finel Honigman's interview with Toland Grinnell was truly electrifying, and I think a perfect counterpoint to the reverential aura created in the Kirili/Smith pieces. It also was a good follow-up to the interview with the Chapman's from a couple months back. Considering the Tate Modern's gargantuan Turbine Hall series with Anish Kapoor was yet another layer added to the rich mix of concepts and perspectives on sculptural practice. Adding Matthew Barney to that conceptual feast proved the straw which broke my cranium.

I am writing to encourage Sculpture Magazine to take a probing, in-depth look at Barney's sculptural practice, because unlike the great critical coverage of the aforementioned pieces in the issue, Susan Canning's review of Barney's Guggenheim show does not do it justice. Notice, I do not suggest an attempt to review the show with justice, because I'm not sure that's within the purvey of this magazine, nor possibly any magazine or mind on the planet. But Barney is a self-avowed sculptor, and his films and the exhibition presented his sculptural work for review, so I would like to hear what our writers think about the work. And hear their feelings about how it fits into the overall sculptural millieu so brightly illuminated in the November issue.

I did not see the Guggenheim show, but I did get a chance to see Cremaster 3 here in Austin, and I read an article in Art in America from a year or so ago about the latest film. Art in America also reported recently that the Barney show is the Guggenheim's best attended show to date -- even surpassing the much ballyhooed motorcycle show from a few years back. Ms. Canning credits Barney with earning our "fascination" for the incredible scope of his project, but she questions the ability of "mere mortals" to understand its intricacies. She knocks the "blaring spectacle" of "The Order" segment of Cremaster 3, but doesn't acknowledge the incredible emotional and conceptual impact that it had in its context within Cremaster 3.
In the current Chinati Foundation newsletter is a review of Judi Werthein's recent installations from her residency there. One of the pieces, "Word Garland," features a banner with a quotation from Maurice Nicoll's Psychological Commentaries which reads, "Imagine the state of a man who cannot see that his minute knowledge compared with his ignorance is incommensurable." This quotation seems particularly relevant with respect to critiquing Barney. To conclude that Barney's world is a "wet dream" and "self-indulgent" stikes me as simply incommensurate with the Cremaster cycle.

Being an artist means conceiving creative ideas and laboring to bring them to fruition with the tools at one's disposal, then presenting that work to an audience at some venue and having that work subjected to the scrutiny of that audience. The scale of Matthew Barney's creative ideas, the production mechanisms, the means at his disposal, the venue(s) he is presenting his work in and the audience he is receiving COMPLETELY outpaces a single discipline, critical stance or individual audience member who wishes to respond to it in totem. The audacity, financial backing, support network and production capacity that he wields are mind-boggling. "Fascinating" does not begin to acknowledge what the mere existence of this work embodies.

But is it good art? Damned if I know. Who could know? I believe there are aspects of the project that would be an epiphany to any viewer. James Joyce was audacious in creating his own language and thus literary world with Finnegan's Wake. Allusions to it abound in Cremaster 3. But all Joyce needed was a typewriter to create the work that seals his place in literature. Imagine what it took to film just "The Order" segment Canning refers to. What individual with what money and what idea gets Richard Serra to clown for him with vaseline, gets the Guggenheim as his personal climbing wall, gets the Rockettes, or whoever they are, gets the fearsomest hardcore band, Agnostic Front, and on and on and on, and in that absolutely smashing costume of his own design to boot?!? What support staff, what equipment, what post-production!?!

The only analogy missing from Ms. Canning's review that could redeem it, would be to note the biological statistic about the number of sperm cells released during ejaculation to produce the one that fertilizes the egg. 200,000,000 to one or something? Barney's Cremaster cycle is the 200,000,000 viable, potent, thrashing sperms -- a wet dream, YES! Sculpture Mag should focus on the 1,000,000 sculptural aspects of the project as a way to begin to get a handle on the whole Cremaster beast. OK, well at least a few. Barney's project deserves Sculpture Mag's expert scrutiny.

Keep up the great work,
Randy Jewart
Austin, TX, USA
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