‘Restraint’: appealing, but obscure

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‘Restraint’: appealing, but obscure

The show “Drawing Restraint,” the first exhibit in Korea by the American artist Matthew Barney, is a visual sensation, both artistic and epic.
The artist’s latest series, “Drawing Restraint 9,” is a full-length film that tells the love story of a man and a woman coming from different places and meeting on a Japanese whaling ship.
The exhibit opens today at Leeum, the Samsung Museum of Art.
The film is long ― it clocks in at 45 minutes ― and obscure in many ways, filled with symbols and imagery drenched with history, the artist’s life and the mythology prevalent in Barney’s other works.
Matthew Barney is probably one the most talked-about contemporary artists in decades. He was the first recipient of the Guggenheim Museum’s Hugo Boss Award. In 2003, the New York Times called him the most important American artist of his generation.
As much as the fuss over his work within the art world, his earlier series, “Cremaster Cycle,” turned heads in fashion and pop culture circles, partly because of the artist’s unique profile: a former football player and Ralph Lauren model.
The exhibit at Leeum puts together a massive compilation of work Barney has done since he graduated from Yale’s school of art, focusing on the artist’s nine-part “Drawing Restraint” series in video, large-scale sculptural installations, photographs, drawings and personal notes.
The “Drawing Restraint” series dates back to 1987, when Barney gave up sports for art. The series focuses on the conditions and limitations of the human body that the artist experienced during his transition.
The idea developed into using “restraint” as a metaphor for the struggles artists must endure to generate creative energy.
In Drawing Restraint 6, for example, he drew a self-portrait on the ceiling while jumping on a small trampoline. In Drawing Restraint 5, the artist attempted to draw a diagram on a piece of paper that was glued high up on a wall, with one of his thighs strapped to an elastic band anchored to the ground. Every time he leapt up to make the drawing, the band snapped him back.
In his latest series, the artist further explores the possibilities of the body, with the film’s recurring image being a sculpture of petroleum jelly reminiscent of the organic texture of whale blubber.
The film, with a soundtrack by the artist’s partner, the pop star Bjork, adds to the film’s obscure imagery, and alludes to the formal beauty and eroticism in Japanese culture, such as a scene in which Japanese women divers spit pearls out of their mouths.

by Park Soo-mee

“Matthew Barney: Drawing Restraint” runs at Leeum through Jan. 8, 2006. English docents are available if requested a week in advance. Matthew Barney will give a lecture on his work today at 1 p.m. at the museum’s auditorium. For more information call (02) 2014-6901.
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