Barney’s multipart Drawing Restraint project (begun in 1987, and ongoing) began with a straightforward proposition: his attempt to make a mark—the most basic component of drawing—while impeded by various physical obstacles, ramps, and harnesses. The early Drawing Restraint works (1–6) comprise an action and its residue, including documentary photography or video, often drawings, and occasionally the restraints themselves.
Returning to the project in 1993, Barney made Drawing Restraint 7, a work formally distinct from its precedents. Departing from the realism that had characterized the series, this three-channel video delves unabashedly into a fictional and mythological world. The three-part narrative features satyrs, played by actors (including the artist) heavily costumed in makeup and prosthetics. In one sequence, a young satyr writhes, fruitlessly attempting to catch its tail. In a second video, a more mature creature poses for the camera. The third video depicts a nighttime limousine ride through New York’s five boroughs. The young satyr drives while the elders, bathed in blue neon light, engage in a wrestling match, each attempting to mark or draw on the car’s fogged sunroof with their horns. Informed by his experience as a football player, Barney often brings his body into his work, and these videos develop his central concern—masculinity as performance—and position it as an enduring obsession in Western culture, from ancient Greece to the present.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)