Cremasterheads, hold on to your hats: Matthew Barney, the artist known for his epic film cycles involving ritual-like ceremonies and abject body horror, is back with a new video installation due to premiere soon in New York.
The work, titled Secondary, is set to be unveiled to the public at his studio in Long Island City on May 12. The show is likely to be Barney’s biggest in New York in years, and the work itself is his first moving-image piece since Redoubt, which played theatrically and in galleries starting in 2019.
Redoubt was minor-key Barney—it was quiet, somber, and slow, although his fascination with Americana and the carnage intertwined with the histories related to it remained. Secondary, however, sounds like a return to some of the material mined in his most famous work, The Cremaster Cycle (1994–2002), an epic, five-part group of films that explored sexual development and featured prosthetics, fantastical beings, the artist Richard Serra, the writer Norman Mailer, and much more.
Per a description on its website, Secondary knits together two elements. One “describes the complex overlay of violence and spectacle inherent in American football, and more broadly within American culture,” paying homage to Barney’s own experience as an athlete and to a 1978 incident that left Darryl Stingley, a wide receiver for the New England Patriots, paralyzed. The other is “a material-based choreography” in which Barney’s cast members were made to mold the materials he commonly uses to make his sculptures.
This plot seems to align the film with past works by Barney, who was even recruited by Yale University to play football when he was an undergraduate. His early sculptures even incorporated uniforms and other objects related to the sport; often, they were intended as critiques of machismo and masculinity inherent in American culture.
Barney himself appears in Secondary, and as usual for his films, the composer Jonathan Bepler has provided the score.
Perhaps the most intriguing element, however, is what is described as a trench that has been set in the floor of Barney’s studio. “As the tide rises, the trench floods with river water, keeping time for the narrative; the evolution of the characters becomes tethered to the slow exposition of this broken structure,” the synopsis reads. Well, then!
Secondary’s premiere is one of the top art events taking place in New York this May, a particularly busy time when fairs like Frieze, Independent, and NADA take place alongside marquee sales held by the top auction houses.