Art Fag City on The Reeler: Showing No Restraint

by Art Fag City on December 19, 2006 Events

Matthew Barney on the set of Drawing Restraint 9, the subject of Alison Chernick’s new film No Restraint. Photo copyright Voyeur Films

I’m beginning to wonder if in time, there will be more written about Matthew Barney than art he’s produced. It’s a tough call of course — you’re pitting an army of whimpy art writers against a varsity athlete and hoping they can keep up — but it’s not an altogether outlandish concept either. Consider the fact that the search terms “art fag city” and “Matthew Barney”, bring back ten plus pages of google results, even though we write about the artist fairly infrequently. Chances are, we will become one of countless people who attempt to either interpret or record the man’s work. However, unlike a blog post, which tends to have a shelf life equal to that of a Bansky, Alison Chernick’s No Restraint, a documentary on the making of Matthew Barney’s latest movie Drawing Restraint 9, will probably not be forgotten. My full write up on the film can be read at The Reeler, but I invite you to pass judgment on first two paragraphs here before I send you clicking. Not that my clearly bias statements means anything here, but I happen to think the link is worth following.

After watching Alison Chernick's No Restraint, a film exploring the making of artist Matthew Barney's Drawing Restraint 9, I spent the following week trying to figure out what makes a good art documentary. It’s more difficult than I expected; only a few days ago I would have told you there isn't much point in making a traditional documentary about an artist if you're not going to focus on his best work. I also would have said I was skeptical about any film that investigates only a few aspects of an artist's creative process — especially when that artist's cosmology has been described by The New York Times’s head art critic Michael Kimmelman as more complex than the Kabbalah.

Given these doubts, you can likely imagine my surprise when I found myself in the position of having to throw all of them away: After years of art world professionals and laypeople alike complaining about the incomprehensibility of Barney's work, No Restraint (opening Wednesday at IFC Center) neither finds the meaning of his work obscure nor simplifies it to the point of becoming art pablum. Chernick uses a simple format, following Barney aboard the Nisshin Maru — a Japanese whaling ship and the set of his 135-minute, virtually dialogue-free (and weakest movie to date) Drawing Restraint 9. It highlights the Japanese crewmen's introduction to and interpretation of his art, the working relationship between Barney and his wife Björk (who also co-“starred” in DR9) and features Kimmelman, gallerist Barbara Gladstone and other experts who chronicle the rise of the star.

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