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MOCA Presents Matthew Barney’s Feature-Length Operatic Film ‘River of Fundament’

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, presents Matthew Barney: River of Fundament, Barney’s first major solo museum exhibition in Los Angeles. River of Fundament (2014) is one of Barney’s most challenging and ambitious projects to date, and his largest filmic undertaking since the five-part CREMASTER film cycle (1994–2002). The eponymous exhibition comprises the epic-length, operatic film River of Fundament, which screens in a cinema made specifically for The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, and approximately 85 works inspired by or made in conjunction with the film, including large-scale sculptures weighing up to 25 tons, drawings, and vitrines.

Nearly seven years in the making, the film River of Fundament tells a story of regeneration and rebirth inspired by Ancient Evenings (1983), Norman Mailer’s sprawling, provocative novel set in ancient Egypt. Conceived as a nontraditional opera written in collaboration with composer Jonathan Bepler, the film combines documentary footage of live performances mounted by Barney and Bepler in Los Angeles, Detroit, and New York, with scripted scenes filmed in a recreation of Mailer’s Brooklyn home and in a subterranean river of feces. Over three feature-length acts, the imagined character of Norman Mailer appears as a protagonist in different incarnations, including one portrayed by Mailer’s son, John Buffalo. In a parallel narrative, three American automobiles are transmogrified. The film features a notable and diverse cast, including actors Maggie Gyllenhaal, Paul Giamatti, Elaine Stritch, Ellen Burstyn, Aimee Mullins, and Joan La Barbara.

The film is divided into three acts, each featuring a live performance (REN, KHU, and BA) that advances the narrative of a commercial and industrial society via the American automobile manufacturing industry. REN (Los Angeles, 2008) subjects the 1967 Chrysler Crown Imperial from Barney’s CREMASTER 3 (2002) to mechanized destruction in an automobile showroom. KHU (Detroit, 2010) documents a performative casting of the massive sculpture DJED (2009-11), during which 25 tons of molten iron is poured into an open, molded pit at a derelict steel mill. BA (New York, 2013) takes place at locations a ong New York City’s East River, culminating in a battle at a dry dock in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a large basin used for the construction and repair of ships. From the dried up L.A. River, to the Detroit River, and finally to New York City’s East River—host to a funereal barge ferrying the Mailer apartment set—man-made and natural arteries transport the protagonists on their journeys from death to rebirth.

Matthew Barney: River of Fundament runs through January 18, 2016.