Sunday, 7 February 2010


One of the most important American artists of our time, Matthew Barney is best known for his Cremaster Cycle, an extravagant series of films which explore creation and growth. This documentary follows Barney as he embarks upon Drawing Restraint 9, the cinematic magnum opus in a series of artistic experiments where he created works under prearranged limitations. As well as charting the genesis and development of this large-scale project, Matthew Barney: No Restraint also explores Barney as a person, unravelling the different facets of his personality which have led him to become such a disciplined, highly-stylised artist.

The documentary opens with Barney excitedly watching a vat fill with Vaseline, the sculptural material with which he has become associated. The scene presages the slightly tongue-in-cheek approach that director Alison Chernick takes to her unconventional making-of documentary. Through recording Barney, Chernick also profiles his wife and artistic collaborator Björk, who also composed the project’s score. While it is refreshing to hear her contributions as the closest person to Barney, the documentary to some extent loses focus because of it. But in all truth, Chernick has done a great job of normalising the extraordinary, particularly when presented with such bizarre sights as artificial legs being stripped apart. At no point is the film patronising to either Barney or the people who help him create his masterpiece, and through charting his dedication and drive, No Restraint should at the very least endear him to those who obtusely refuse to acknowledge the value of art.

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