So a very real thing the New York Times is known for is the way in which many of its obituaries for notable women bury these women’s accomplishments in favor of, say, expounding on their ability to make a good meatloaf or be a devoted wife and mother. It’s diminishing and indicative of the patriarchal world we live in and, well, you know the rest, right? Right. But, uh, with the latest Times headline about Matthew Barney, the paper of record has gone a long way toward shedding any lest vestiges of misogyny and embracing misandry. Cool?
Anyway, the article—”Matthew Barney, Artist and Ex-Boyfriend, Gets a Show in Los Angeles“—was written by Deborah Solomon, is ostensibly about Barney’s upcoming show in LA, but also seems like a way to dig in to Barney for having broken up with Björk. Solomon starts off: “Matthew Barney has often been called the most important American artist of his generation, but last week, he became newly famous as a former boyfriend.” Ouch! That is easily as bad a burn as anything printed in a Times obituary. Solomon, of course, is referring to Björk’s recently opened retrospective at MoMA, which includes a video installation of Björk’s song “Black Lake,” which details the demise of her relationship with Barney. As Solomon notes, Björk’s lyrics include the easy-enough-to-interpret line, “Family was always our sacred mutual mission, which you abandoned.” Again, ouch!
The Barney-bashing soon subsides and Solomon explains that the artist will be getting a show—”Matthew Barney: River of Fundament”—at the Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art in LA “on Sept. 14. The exhibition is his first museum show in Los Angeles and will be accompanied by a festive slate of Barney-themed events around town.” Barney’s film River of Fundament premiered at BAM in February of last year (because who wouldn’t want to watch a river of shit with their loved one on Valentine’s Day?), but this will be its West Coast debut.
So, here’s the thing: Usually I delight in a little low-key misandry. Who doesn’t? But honestly, can you even imagine if Björk was described in a headline as being a “musician and ex-girlfriend”? Barney is an accomplished artist—in fact, he was co-responsible along with Alexander McQueen for one of the best parts of the entire Björk retrospective—and shouldn’t be reduced to being an “ex-boyfriend” even if he did break Björk’s heart. I mean, have we learned nothing from the whole Thurston Moore-Kim Gordon fiasco? Never take sides in these kinds of things. Love is never simple. Break-ups rarely have a good or a bad guy, and it’s reductive and boring to slam men for their roles in break-ups because it takes away all agency from the women. So, you know, keep up with the misandry, New York Times, but maybe aim it at a more worthy target.
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