Matthew Barney’s “Drawing Restraint,” at the Serpentine

When in London a few weeks ago, I went to see the Drawing Restraint exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery. It was my first time at the Serpentine and I loved it. What a perfectly sized museum! This was a great show and a great, compact space for the material.

I am not a huge Barney fan and actually don’t know much about his work. Before this show I’d only seen one of his movies (and it wasn’t even from the famous Cremaster Cycle), which didn’t overly impress me. So I wasn’t expecting much. So I was kinda shocked to be blown away by this exhibition of such exquisitely wrought objects. But it was the drawings that really blew me away. I was fascinated by one drawing of the rock of Gibraltar, drawn from a ship’s deck. The lines on the paper were so evocative of movement, pressure, lightness, sea air and wind. I could feel him tracing, caressing the coastline. I found the visceral quality that many seem to attribute to his sculptures made of materials like vaseline and wood just as palpable here in the drawings.

Another element I really enjoyed, and which I didn’t know previously about Barney, is the athleticism. Throughout one of the galleries were a  series of drawings on the gallery wall made by Barney while holding onto rock-climbing holds high up on the wall. The rock-climbing gym cum gallery: the holds were still there on the wall and I found myself staring at the grips, trying to flash the wall…figure out my route and mentally preparing myself to climb (oh I wish I could have!). Almost unwillingly, I stared at the holds and the corresponding shoe smudges on the wall, trying to re-trace the route Barney would have taken to climb up, brace himself with one arm, and reach out to draw on the wall a few feet away. It just brought the process to life for me. It was like I made a movie inside my head recreating the action that made these marks.

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