Matthew Barney

Born 1967.
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Matthew Barney Biography

Widely hailed as one of the most ambitious artists of his generation, Matthew Barney’s surrealistic and visually arresting multimedia work – fusing sculptural installation with performance and video art – has earned a cult following. Throughout his oeuvre, Barney foregrounds biology, eroticism and the athletic ideal amid symbol and myth to create compelling explorations of creation, destruction and regeneration.

Born in 1967 in San Francisco, California, Barney spent much of his childhood in Boise, Idaho. In 1985, he was recruited by Yale University to play football. Initially planning to study pre-med, Barney found himself drawn to the arts; however, his experiences as an athlete and interest in biology and the human body would remain central to his practice. While still a student, Barney began work on the Drawing Restraint cycle (1987–present), which takes as its point of departure the principle by which muscles develop in response to increasing resistance. After graduation, Barney moved to New York where he continued to expand on themes of physicality and sexuality, and, in 1991 at the age of 24, Barney was honored with a solo exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

In 1994, Barney embarked upon his best-known and most ambitious project, The Cremaster Cycle (1994–2002). Named for the muscle that lowers the testicles, the five film series features Barney in numerous roles, from the notorious murderer Gary Gilmore to Harry Houdini, in a visually extravagant exploration of creation, identity and sexual differentiation. Presented along with photographs, drawings, sculptures and installations produced in conjunction with each film, the cycle culminated in a major traveling exhibition organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. More recently, Barney has continued to receive wide attention for his River of Fundament (2006–14) and Redoubt (2017–19) projects.

Barney currently lives and works in New York. He is the recipient of numerous honors, including the Europa 2000 Prize at the Venice Biennale (1993), the first Hugo Boss Prize from the Guggenheim Museum (1996) and the Skowhegan Medal for Combined Media (1999). His work is collected by the Museum of Modern Art and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, the Art Institute of Chicago, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Tate Gallery, London.

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Artist Image: 2015 Donato Sardella