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Matthew Barney moves from cycle of life to death

December 20, 2007|Lea Lion

AFTER spending almost a decade exploring the cycle of life, it seems only fitting that Matthew Barney is moving on to the subject of death. In addition to being the partner of Icelandic pop singer Bjork, the New York-based artist is known for "The Cremaster Cycle," an epic five-part film series that follows a new life from the beginning.

Now, Barney has turned his attention to "Guardian of the Veil," a project loosely based on Norman Mailer's novel "Ancient Evenings," that follows a man through the seven stages of death to the afterlife. The new exhibition "Drawing From Guardian of the Veil" at Regen Projects features drawings, photographs and video from the project.

Barney is also known for doing things in a big way. A mix of history, mythology and autobiography, "The Cremaster Cycle" illustrates an alternative universe populated by fantastic entities, including a red-headed satyr, a four-horned goat and, in one case, several anthropomorphized Chrysler Crown Imperials.

"It's a whole cosmology," says gallery owner Shaun Caley Regen. "I've known him since 1990. . . . He doesn't talk about it, he's very quiet, but you can tell it's always developing and building."

Nothing in Barney's world is quite as it seems, however, and even in death much of the "Cremaster" cosmology remains intact.

For example, "Guardian of the Veil" incorporates iconic imagery from the final film in the series, "Cremaster 3" (the films were created out-of-sequence), which features New York City's Chrysler Building as a character.

"He uses imagery from 'Cremaster' to tie the projects together," explains Stacy Bengtson, the gallery's associate director. "It is almost a funeral of sorts."

Displayed against stark white walls under fluorescent lights, the show's roughly two dozen works are arranged in Morse code-like groupings of two or three.

While the graphite-on-paper drawings are subtle to the point of disappearing against their black backgrounds, a close look reveals intricately rendered surrealistic scenarios. One image features Mailer with an oversized scarab beetle sitting on his head. Another depicts the Chrysler Building plunging to the ground.

Despite "Guardian of the Veil's" obvious ties to death, it also represents the birth of a new cycle, Regen says. But whether it will reach "Cremaster" proportions remains to be seen.

"I think it's really something that is developing and not written in stone right now," she adds. "But this is definitely a laying to rest of something."

-- Lea.Lion@latimes.com

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'DRAWING FROM GUARDIAN OF THE VEIL'

WHERE: Regen Projects, 633 N. Almont Drive, L.A.

WHEN: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; ends Jan. 20

PRICE: Free

INFO: (310) 276-5424, www.regenprojects.com

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