On July 18, Denver residents and visitors will have the unique opportunity to see Matthew Barney’s latest cinematic work, River of Fundament. Screened extensively in Europe but shown in the U.S. only in New York, Los Angeles, and Detroit (the three locations where the film was shot), River of Fundament is being presented in Denver by the Clyfford Still Museum and the Denver Art Museum, in conjunction with Denver’s Biennial of the Americas.
Based on the late American author Norman Mailer’s novel Ancient Evenings, River of Fundament was conceived as a nontraditional opera written in collaboration with composer Jonathan Bepler. The Denver presentation will take place in the historic Ellie Caulkins Opera House.
Set across the American landscape, River of Fundament is an epic story of regeneration and rebirth. Borrowing certain metaphors and structural motifs from Mailer’s text, the film draws comparisons to the seven stages the Egyptian soul undergoes in its journey after death toward a new life. Featuring several prominent actors, including Maggie Gyllenhaal, Paul Giamatti, and Elaine Stritch, as well as cameo roles by such figures as writer Salman Rushdie and artist Lawrence Weiner, much of the narrative is played out in a careful recreation of Mailer’s Brooklyn brownstone apartment, where the late author’s wake takes place.
Matthew Barney emerged in the early 1990s and gained immediate attention for his installations that combined sculpture, video, performance art, and drawing. While his earliest works seemed to deal with ideas surrounding athleticism, endurance, and the male body (an important early sculpture featured a bench press cast from Vaseline), these themes were expanded through his five, feature-length Cremaster films (1994-2002), which culminated in a major retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in 2004. Portions of River of Fundament were begun while Barney was concluding the Cremaster cycle, further evidence that Barney is perhaps the most ambitious and creative artists working today.