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Matthew Barney - The Cremaster Cycle

1 2 3 4 5

CREMASTER 3 (2002) is set in New York City and narrates the construction of the Chrysler Building. A character itself, the building is host to inner, antagonistic forces at play for access to the process of (spiritual) transcendence. These factions find form in the struggle between Hiram Abiff or the Architect (played by Richard Serra), and the Entered Apprentice (played by Barney), who are both working on the building. They are reenacting the Masonic myth of Hiram Abiff, purported architect of Solomon's Temple, who possessed knowledge of the mysteries of the universe. The murder and resurrection of Abiff are reenacted during Masonic initiation rites.

After a prologue steeped in Celtic mythology, the narrative begins under the foundation of the partially constructed Chrysler Building. A female corpse digging her way out of a grave is the undead Gary Gilmore, protagonist of Cremaster 2. Carried out of her tomb by five boys, she is transported to the Chrysler Building's lobby and deposited in the back seat of a Chrysler Imperial New Yorker. During this scene, the camera cross-cuts to the Apprentice troweling cement over carved fuel-tank caps of five 1967 Chrysler Crown Imperials, each bearing the insignia of a different Cremaster episode. Packed with cement, these caps will serve as battering rams in a demolition derby about to begin. The Apprentice then scales one of the building's elevator shafts until reaching a car. Using this cabin as a mold, he pours cement to cast the perfect ashlar, a symmetrically hewn stone that symbolizes moral rectitude in Masonic ritual. By circumventing the carving process to create the perfect ashlar, the Apprentice has cheated in his rites of passage and has sabotaged the construction of the building.

The ensuing scene in the Chrysler Building's Cloud Club bar is a slapstick routine between bartender and Apprentice. Almost everything goes wrong, and these humorous mishaps result in the bartender playing his environment like a bagpipe. The accidents are caused by a woman (played by Aimee Mullins) in an adjoining room stuffing potatoes under the foundation of the bar until it is no longer level—a condition that echoes the corrupted state of the tower. The action is interrupted by a scene shift to a racetrack, where the Apprentice is accosted by hit men who break all his teeth in retribution for his deception. Back in the Cloud Club, he is escorted to a dental office and stripped of his clothes. An apron of flesh obtrudes from his navel, referencing the lambskin aprons worn by Masonic candidates as a symbol for the state of innocence before the Fall. In the dental suite the Apprentice is simultaneously punished and redeemed for his hubris by the Architect—whose own hubris also knows no bounds. Returning to his office, and anxious about the tower's slow progress, the Architect constructs two pillars that allude to the columns, Jachin and Boaz, designed by Abiff for Solomon's Temple. Meanwhile, the Apprentice escapes from the dental lab and climbs to the top of the tower. The Architect uses his columns as a ladder and climbs through an oculus in the ceiling. The next scene describes an apotheosis, the Architect becoming one with his design, as the tower itself is transformed into a maypole. At this point in the narrative the film pauses for a choric interlude. The rites of the Masonic fraternity, through allegorical representations of the five-part Cremaster cycle, are staged in the guise of a game in the Guggenheim Museum. Called "The Order," this competition features a fantastical incarnation of the Apprentice as its sole contestant, who must overcome obstacles on each level of the museum's spiraling rotunda. In one of the final scenes, which returns to the top of the Chrysler Building, the Architect is murdered by the Apprentice, who is then killed by the tower. Both men have been punished for their hubris and the building will remain unfinished. The film ends with a coda that links it to Cremaster 4. This is the legend of Fionn MacCumhail, which describes the formation of the Isle of Man, where the next installment of the Cremaster cycle takes place.
—Nancy Spector

CREMASTER 3: Entered Novitiate, 2002
C-print in acrylic frame (shown unframed)
54 x 44 x 1 1/2 inches
Edition of 6, 2 A.P.
Photo by Chris Winget
© Matthew Barney, courtesy Barbara Gladstone Gallery

Production photograph
Photo by Chris Winget
© Matthew Barney, courtesy Barbara Gladstone Gallery

Cremaster Suite, 1994–2002
1 of 5 C-prints in self-lubricating plastic frames (shown unframed)
45 1/4 x 35 1/4 x 1 1/4 inches each
Edition of 10, 2 A.P.
Photo by Chris Winget
© Matthew Barney, courtesy Barbara Gladstone Gallery

Partition, 2002
Petroleum jelly, internally lubricated plastic, refrigeration system, cast thermoplastic, stainless steel, and Astroturf
76 x 312 x 211 inches overall
Courtesy of Barbara Gladstone
Photo by Marc Domage, courtesy Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

The Cloud Club, 2002
Mason & Hamlin Symetrigrand piano with stainless steel, silver, white mother-of-pearl, gold lip mother-of-pearl, black lip mother-of-pearl, green abalone, quarterbred Honduras mahogany, lacewood, walnut, ash burl, redwood burl, madrone burl, and Chilean laurel marquetry; internally lubricated plastic; potatoes; concrete; and sterling silver
57 x 108 x 84 inches
Photo by Ellen Labenski, © Matthew Barney, courtesy Barbara Gladstone Gallery