Copper in the Arts

February 2019

Matthew Barney's Redoubt Opens at Yale University Art Gallery

By Robyn Jasko

The Yale University Art Gallery recently unveiled Matthew Barney: Redoubt, a mesmerizing exhibition of the renowned contemporary artist pairing bronze sculptures, electroplated copper plates, and film, among other mediums. The exhibition centers around a two-hour film that traces the story of a wolf hunt in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountain range, intertwining the theme of the hunt with those of mythology and artistic creation. Also featured are four monumental sculptures made with cast and machined brass, and cast and machined copper, along with more than 40  engravings and electroplated copper plates.

yale.jpgMatthew Barney, Virgins, 2018. Cast and machined brass, and cast and
machined copper. © Matthew Barney. 
Photograph courtesy of Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

This show represents the first major exhibition of Barney’s work at his alma mater, demonstrating his ever-expanding range and shift in materials over the past ten years, from the plastic and petroleum jelly of his early works to the cast metals that figured prominently in River of Fundament. The four monumental sculptures in the exhibition derive from trees harvested from a burned forest in the Sawtooth Mountains. Barney poured Molten copper and brass were poured through the trees, creating a unique cast of the core as the metal flowed inside. The exhibition also includes engravings on copper plate that Barney made during the filming of Redoubt as well as a series of electroplated copper reliefs that feature imagery from the film, such as the landscape of the Sawtooth Mountains or a wolf among the trees.

“Barney’s intellectual and aesthetic frames of reference are wide-ranging: classical mythology as well as myths of the American West, modern choreography as well as contemporary Native American hoop dance, environmental science as well as wildlife biology, art history, cosmology, electrochemistry, and alchemy,” says exhibition curator Pamela Franks, Class of 1956 Director at the Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts, and former Senior Deputy Director and Seymour H. Knox, Jr., Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Gallery. “The artist is equally adventurous in his approaches to materials and art making, with both casting and electroplating methods newly invented for Redoubt.”

The electroplates were made using a technique that Barney developed during production of the film, which he then refined and expanded in the studio. In this experimental method, an image was engraved into a copper plate coated with asphalt. The plate was immersed in an acid and copper solution and was subjected to an electrical current, causing copper growths to form out of the engraved lines. By altering the conditions in the electroplating tank—including current, heat, and chemical concentrations—the artist produced unique variations on each image. On the plates that were left longest in the electroplating bath, the copper accretions overtake the drawing, transforming the engravings into abstract reliefs and almost completely obscuring the image.

“Projects like Redoubt are truly thrilling from the Gallery’s perspective,” states Stephanie Wiles, the museum’s Henry J. Heinz II Director. “To have a contemporary artist and Yale alumnus of Barney’s extraordinary talent mine the University’s collections and intellectual resources, including staff and faculty, for such a captivating and compelling project speaks to the power of art to transcend disciplines and boundaries. The Gallery is honored to present Redoubt to the public, and we eagerly anticipate the interdisciplinary fruits of this exhibition and publication.”


The Yale University Art Gallery, 1111 Chapel St., New Haven, CT, (203) 432-0601

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