Matthew Barney Transforms Abstract Football Film into Sculptures and Paintings

Recently, Matthew Barney explored his new studio, pausing to examine a peculiar set of alchemical dumbbells. He reflected on the themes of stress, vulnerability, and frailty he perceived in them, noting, “These are experiments in transitioning from ceramic to plastic,” as he showcased 8-pound weight castings undergoing a metamorphosis. Barney emphasized his interest in creating material conflicts within sculptures that narrate beyond their physical form. This discussion was part of his introduction to a new series of artworks stemming from his 2023 video installation, Secondary, which he debuted last summer. This work is now being expanded upon in a series of exhibitions that began at the Gladstone Gallery in New York.

The initial showing of Secondary marked the end of an era for Barney’s vast East River studio, a space known for its elaborate events and as a filming location for Secondary and other projects, including scenes from his six-hour 2014 film, River of Fundament. Secondary draws inspiration from football, a sport Barney once played and a dominant cultural force in America. However, Barney’s approach extends far beyond the surface, delving into complex narratives as seen in his previous works, including The Cremaster Cycle and Redoubt.

Following Secondary, an abstract film reflecting on a tragic football incident from the past, Barney created a series of works that reinterpret various objects and themes, such as sewage pipes and weightlifting equipment, and incorporate NFL jerseys. These pieces, along with drawings and paintings, explore the aftermath of a catastrophic event that left Darryl Stingley, a New England Patriots wide receiver, paralyzed after a hit by Oakland Raiders safety Jack Tatum in 1978.

The New York exhibition at Gladstone Gallery showcases sculptures, drawings, and a painting, while four additional exhibitions set to open in London, Los Angeles, Paris, and at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain will feature the film alongside new related works. Many of these pieces incorporate ceramic, a material Barney became intrigued by after discovering clay pipes beneath his studio, revealing an unexpected connection to New York’s ceramic-based infrastructure.

Matthew Barney’s work continues to challenge and expand the boundaries of art, using his unique vision to explore and intertwine themes of physicality, transformation, and the urban landscape.