duct duct duct DUCTS.ORG Issue 12 | Winter 2003 the webzine of personal stories   duct
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Matthew Barney's Cremaster Class

J. B. Miller


Okay, ladies and gentlemen, you're in this class because you're the cream of the crop. You're Yale and RISD's finest; your performance art and sculptural enigmata is consistently shocking and incomprehensible. You've filled 6,000-square-foot loft spaces with thumbtacks and roach motels, you've covered Volkswagens with cottage cheese and elk dung, you've melted fireplace tongs into nail clippers and glued them onto a violin. But now it's time to move into the big leagues. Now it's time to put ice cream scoops of buffalo vomit into 18-karat gold soup tureens-to build a 60-foot waterfall made of milk and set fire to a tract house.

Sure you may have filled a toll booth with phallic balloons and had them popped by an angry cat in a razor collar. But did you paint the cat orange? Did you fill the balloons with hydrogen? Did you give the cat a lighter? Art has to be dangerous. Art has to be unpredictable. Art has to involve beeswax.

To be an artist, you have to be willing to stand in a boat in the middle of Lake Tahoe for three days, dressed as Queen Victoria licking a stuffed owl. But don't forget to videotape it and submit it to the Whitney Biennial. Art is a public act, which may include refrigerator magnets and a BMW commercial.

That's what separates the big boys from the sidewalk sellers. That's the difference between a group show in a railroad flat in Williamsburg and a mid-career retrospective at the Guggenheim.

Look at me. No, not my pink kilt and bloody mouth rag. Look at what I've done. Early in my career I climbed naked across the ceiling of the Barbara Gladstone Gallery covered in Vaseline. Why not talcum powder? If you have to ask that question, you don't belong in this class, you belong in a beauty salon.

To be an artist, you have to know what you want and never compromise. In "Cremaster 3," I could have settled for a cockfight in the mezzanine of the Hyatt Hotel, but what would be the point of that? It had to be a demolition derby in the foyer of the Chrysler Building. That was the whole point.

Okay, let's get down to business. Your subject matter should hit the viewer in the solar plexus- or lower. I've used the cremaster muscle, but there's also the scrotum, the pubes, the testes, the colon. No one's done a "Prostate Series" or a six-film cycle on the gallbladder.

Here are some ideas. Write them down:

  • Statue of Saddam Hussein made of freeze-dried hummus.
  • Neon sign saying "Neon Sign."
  • Life-size fly constructed out of butterfly bits.
  • Billboard sign on interstate that says, "DO NOT READ THIS SIGN."
  • Richard Serra standing in a bucket of tapioca.
  • Twelve-hundred-page catalogue raisoné of artwork that doesn't exist.
  • Disused quarry filled with 900 tons of egg salad.

Always consider: context, size, metaphoric value, and of course ambiguity. Any questions?

Yes, you in the apricot marzipan bike helmet in the back.

The question is: Does the work have to mean something?

Is the Pope made out of chocolate?


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