Barney For Grown-Ups

Matthew Barney, 32, was recruited by Yale to play football, but left the team to model for the Gap. Then he took up art. When he was 24, his first solo show in New York (which included a workout bench fashioned from vaseline, exhibited in a freezer) was a SoHo sensation. Barney's videos of himself as a satyr won the trendy Hugo Boss prize in 1995 and made him an international star before he turned 30. "I was a quarterback," Barney says. "I'm very comfortable working on a single thing with a group of people." His latest "Cremaster" film--fourth in a series of five--premiered recently at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Each is a feature-length, beautifully photographed, movingly scored and virtually dialogueless dream-with-a- capital-D. The new one chronicles, in an emphatically surreal manner, the last days of the executed murderer Gary Gilmore, played by Barney. Norman Mailer plays Harry Houdini. (Don't ask.)

The series--the cremaster is a muscle connected to the testicles--illustrates Barney's obsession with sex. Not "Eyes Wide Shut" sex. More like "Your Reproductive System," stoned on androgyny and postmodern decadence. Yes, it all sounds too weird. If you just chill, however, and let Barney's films wash over you, the question "But what does it mean?" won't even occur. Until you dream about them.

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