A Long, Strange Trip

The Dobie plays host to Matthew Barney's five-part feast of the bizarre, the 'Cremaster' cycle

Cremaster 1-5
Cremaster 1-5

Is Matthew Barney a genius? Or simply the ringmaster for a newish artistic genus? Judging from the brouhaha surrounding his Cremaster cycle of films -- equally loved and maligned -- the case could be made for both (and probably should). Personally, Barney's films -- which marry heavy conceptualist style to screechingly weird, hypersexualized themes, images, and sounds in a shotgun wedding equally heavy on the sideshow horrifics and cluttered symbolism -- feel like a marathon bad trip, pregnant with ghoulish imagery: Barney in satyric goat ears and cream-colored tuxedo, the Chrysler Building as monstrous phallus, dead horses, blood, bile, Vaseline. Barney's the bastard offspring of David Cronenberg and Ken Russell, with a close kinship to David Lynch and Un Chien Andalou's sad, bifurcated eyeball.

Last year's Cremaster exhibit at the Guggenheim in New York -- which included all five films in the cycle, as will the Dobie's exclusive engagement kicking off Friday -- attracted rave reviews and incorporated three-dimensional artwork into the cinematic mix, although not everyone found the artist as much. New York Press railed against Barney's work with scathing vitriol, saying, "The only lasting mystery to be had at the Guggenheim is how this bloated fraud was perpetrated on the art world in the first place." Which really just goes to show that the installation succeeded in the one respect that most smart art should: It got people riled up, talking, screaming, and yelling. Chatter matters, and it's not much of a stretch to envision various art-world factions going to war over this one, charcoals at the ready, brushes primed, gesso-grenades and hastily formulated screeds flopping full born from yakking pomo-boho lips. But I digress.

Sitting through all five Cremaster films can be something of an endurance test, frustrating and with the potential for bitter disappointment. But then so is waiting endlessly in line at the Louvre to catch a glimpse of that suddenly too-small portrait of the woman with the vague smile and the wandering gaze. The Mona Lisa causes ruckuses daily, so why not Matthew Barney? At least it's something to talk about.

Matthew Barney's Cremaster cycle will screen throughout the week at the Dobie Theatre. See "Film Listings" for review and showtimes.

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Matthew Barney, Dobie Theatre, Cremaster

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