The Reality of the Symbol

Within half an hour, the sculpture’s level had sunk about a foot. The yellow stuff was oozing out onto the blue Astro-Turf (in homage to Bronco Stadium) that covered the floor, but what had looked to me like a full-scale disaster, or, at the least, like a wholly unexpected variation on the lost-wax method of making sculpture, was apparently nothing of the kind. “We're at the mercy of the material,” Barney observed, with a smile that was just short of seraphic.

“The Vaseline is behaving like I’ve never seen it behave,” he said, somewhat later. “I think it’s because of the amount of the mass and the force behind it. You’re getting the kind of shearing that you see in glacial ice. If you’re out on a glacier for any length of time, you feel like everything’s moving, but you can’t see it moving. Which is lovely, that feeling. You have a little of that here.”

The opening was set for seven-forty-five the next evening. I got there on time, and found the space already jammed with people. Most of them were in another lobby, adjacent to the one with the sculpture, because the sculpture had taken over all but a few feet of the blue Astro-Turf. It had more or less stopped moving now. It looked like an avalanche, with jagged fissures, and hills and valleys, and crumpled areas where it had piled up on itself. Barney, wearing the same loose black shirt he’d had on earlier, looked tired but extremely alert. I asked him whether he’d expected the sculpture to behave the way it had. “The intention was to emphasize the entropic nature of the ‘Cremaster’ cycle,” he replied, a bit formally. Then, grinning, he said, “It failed more than I thought it would. But I’m very happy with it. You have to surrender a certain control.”

The New Yorker, January 27, 2003

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