Matthew Barney Project a Perfect Fit for Sparano + Mooney Architecture

From mid-September 2015 through mid-January 2016, visitors to the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) were treated to an extraordinary exhibit from eclectic American artist Matthew Barney.  Architects Sparano + Mooney was thrilled to be part of the exhibit, having designed the theater space that housed the biggest draw among Barney fans: an epic six-hour film entitled River of Fundament. From our perspective, the Barney project was a perfect fit for our team.

We appreciate the work of Matthew Barney for its provocative and envelope-pushing nature. For those who know nothing of this artist, Barney is hard to pin down. His art covers multiple mediums including sculpture, drawing, photography, film, and even performance art. All of these are combined in River of Fundament, which might just be Barney's most ambitious project. Having the opportunity to be part of the exhibit at MOCA was truly an honor for us.

More Than Just a Theater

Our contribution to River of Fundament was the theater space where Barney lovers and critics alike sat to watch a film based on Norman Mailer's critical failure, Ancient Evenings. From a design perspective, we had to come up with a space that was physically comfortable (keeping in mind the people who watched the entire film would be sitting for six hours) while at the same time aesthetically pleasing and in tune with the vibe of the exhibit. This was no easy task.

In addition to the challenge of the theater itself was designing it in concert with the rest of the exhibit space, which contained many of the artworks used to create the film. For example, the exhibit included a rather large reproduction of Norman Mailer's attic workspace flipped upside down on its head. Nearby were several 25-ton bronze sculptures along with display cases containing more than seven dozen artifacts from the film.

If nothing else, the entire collection was less-than-cohesive to the untrained eye new to Matthew Barney and his artwork. We knew this theater space would have to be such that it did not detract from the film experience by continuing the lack of cohesion found outside the space. Therefore, we opted for an architecture of simplicity and understated modernism that would complement Barney's style and keep all eyes focused on the film.

Seeing What Others Don't See

Having the opportunity to work on the Matthew Barney project was also a chance for architects at Sparano + Mooney to push ourselves and our perceptions beyond that which we were used to. In the contemporary art world, what separates the great from the merely adequate is being able to see what others do not see. Contemporary art is meant to challenge the mind to go beyond what is deemed normal, in search of those things that truly define who we are.

Contemporary architecture is similar in so many ways. Finding the right balance between aesthetic beauty and creating buildings that are both structurally sound and friendly to the environment requires vision that not everyone has. Whether it is contemporary architecture in Park City or a gallery theater space at Los Angeles MOCA, going beyond what is expected is just the start of creating something truly great.

The Matthew Barney exhibit has now moved on from Los Angeles. During its four-month museum run here, there was no shortage of fans and critics who had their say. But whether you loved it or hated it, one thing cannot be denied: Matthew Barney once again pushed those who viewed River of Fundament and its artifacts to see things differently. We are proud to have been part of it and look forward to our next collaboration with MOCA.


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