In his latest show, The Occidental Guest, at Barbara Gladstone Gallery, Mathew Barney has charted a course for a voyage into the nature of how symbol and language function in his unique pantheon of characters and the mysterious world these characters inhabit.
Mr. Barney has continually suggested, through a proliferation of nuanced references to Masonic orders, occult symbolism and mutant eroticism, that there may be somehow instilled in his vision a meaning and resonance that is specific to material, sexuality and their interface.
The new work which makes up this current exhibition returns to forms that we have seen before. Small sexually charged pencil drawings incased in his now recognizable clipboard prosthetic plastic frames. Large ambiguous sculpture, whose austere origin and context are masked. Another work that makes up the exhibition is a large white box containing a gelatinous liquid that has expanded and oozed outside of the box seeking to fill the gallery with a white Vaseline wave.
Another gallery contains two huge pylons that have suffered some traumatic shock and appear crumpled and disfigured, again all in white.
So, what does all this mean? In his film cycle Creamaster, Mr. Barney has seemingly sought to tie these disparate elements together with a loose narrative to create a kind of cohesion, while his gallery exhibitions seem to be relics or working ideas from or about the process of making the films. What is apparent is Mr. Barney’s pervasive and indulgent use of gaudy materials. Leaving one to wonder if the awe with which he is able to evoke in his audience has less to do with the works content and more to do with the material, and grandeur of its execution.
While some artists are particularly direct and able to conflate and synthesize all the elements of a given idea or body of work to convey a cohesive idea, some rely on the crutch of bigger equals better. This current exhibition leaves one to wonder if there truly is something to the arcane topical investigations of all things alchemical and eclectically sexual or if the point is not clearly stated.