Matthew Barney (born March 25, 1967) is an American artist who works in sculpture, photography, drawing and film. His early works were sculptural installations combined with performance and video. Between 1994 and 2002 he created the Cremaster Cycle, a series of five films described by Jonathan Jones in The Guardian as "one of the most imaginative and brilliant achievements in the history of avant-garde cinema."
Matthew Barney was born March 25, 1967, in San Francisco, California. He lived in Boise, Idaho from 1973 to 1985, where he attended elementary, middle, and high school. His parents divorced and his mother moved to New York City, where he would frequently visit, and where he was introduced to the art scene. In 1989, he graduated from Yale University. His earliest works, created at Yale, were staged at the university’s athletic complex. Barney lives with his partner, singer Björk, with whom he had a daughter in 2002.
The ongoing Drawing Restraint series was begun in 1987 as a series of studio experiments, drawing upon an athletic model of development in which growth occurs only through restraint: the muscle encounters resistance, becomes engorged and is broken down, and in healing becomes stronger. In literally restraining the body while attempting to make a drawing, Drawing Restraints 1–6 (1987–89) were documented with video and photography. Drawing Restraint 7 marks the influx of narrative and characterization, resulting in a three channel video and series of drawings and photographs, for which Barney was awarded the Aperto prize in the 1993 Venice Biennale.
A series of ten vitrines containing drawings, Drawing Restraint 8 was included in the 2003 Venice Biennale and prefigured the narrative development for Drawing Restraint 9 (2005). A major project consisting of a feature-length film with soundtrack composed by Björk, large-scale sculptures, photographs and drawings, Drawing Restraint 9 was built upon themes such as the Shinto religion, the tea ceremony, the history of whaling, and the supplantation of blubber with refined petroleum for oil. A full-scale survey of Barney's work through Drawing Restraint 9 was held at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2006 and included over 150 objects of varying media. Drawing Restraints 10 – 16 (2005–07) are site-specific performances that recall the earlier Yale pieces.
Drawing Restraint 17 and 18 were performed at the Schaulager, Basel in 2010 in conjunction with the exhibition "Prayer Sheet with the Wound and the Nail," a survey of the Drawing Restraint series through Drawing Restraint 18.
Barney's epic Cremaster cycle (1994–2002) is a project consisting of five feature-length films that explore processes of creation. His concentration in sculpture is accentuated by his use of video. Barney uses video to perfect his sculpture by evaluating positioning, lighting, size and shape, using video as a means to his end product of sculpture  Barney’s long-time collaborator Jonathan Bepler composed and arranged the films’ soundtracks. The cycle unfolds not just cinematically, but also through the photographs, drawings, sculptures, and installations the artist produces in conjunction with each episode. Its conceptual departure point is the male cremaster muscle, which controls testicular contractions in response to external stimuli.
The project is rife with anatomical allusions to the position of the reproductive organs during the embryonic process of sexual differentiation: Cremaster 1 represents the most "ascended" or undifferentiated state, Cremaster 5 the most "descended" or differentiated. The cycle repeatedly returns to those moments during early sexual development in which the outcome of the process is still unknown. In Barney's metaphoric universe, these moments represent a condition of pure potentiality. As the cycle evolved over eight years, Barney looked beyond biology as a way to explore the creation of form, employing narrative models from other realms, such as biography, mythology, and geology. The photographs, drawings, and sculptures radiate outward from the narrative core of each film installment. Barney's photographs—framed in plastic and often arranged in diptychs and triptychs that distill moments from the plot—often emulate classical portraiture. His graphite and petroleum jelly drawings represent key aspects of the project's conceptual framework.
Beside other Artists Matthew Barney pays references to Johnny de Brest's dark Photo-Novel "Vladracul" (1991–1996). The Washington City Paper noted: Some of the man-monster creatures recall the films of Matthew Barney, and the lurid local-color details—Mina Harker gets gang-raped at Marlene Dietrich’s grave—suggest a concept album that David Bowie never got around to making during his Berlin phase. (A soundtrack of late-’70s Bowie, Iggy, and Eno would be apt.).
Barney has explored live performance before an audience. The pieces Ren and Guardian of the Veil revisit the language of the Cremaster Cycle, via a ritualistic exploration of Egyptian symbolism inspired by Norman Mailer's novel Ancient Evenings. Guardian of the Veil took place on July 12, 2007 at the Manchester Festival in England. REN took place on May 18, 2008 in Los Angeles. His most recent performance, KHU, the second part in his seven-part performance series in collaboration with Bepler inspired by Ancient Evenings took place on October 2, 2010 in Detroit.
In June 2009, a collaboration between Barney and Elizabeth Peyton, entitled Blood of Two, was performed for the opening of the Deste Foundation's exhibition space, the Slaughterhouse, located on the Greek island Hydra. The two-hour performance involved divers retrieving from a nearby cove a vitrine containing drawings which had been submerged for months. A funeral-like procession of fishermen carried the case up a winding set of stairs. At one point, a dead shark was laid on the case, and the fishermen proceeded to the gallery space, carrying the case and shark, accompanied by the onlookers and a herd of goats. At the Slaughterhouse, the case was opened, water poured out, and the drawings revealed. The shark was eventually cooked and fed to the guests.