CREMASTER 2 is rendered as a gothic Western that introduces conflict into the system. On the biological level it corresponds to the phase of fetal development during which sexual division begins. In Matthew Barney’s abstraction of this process, the system resists partition and tries to remain in the state of equilibrium imagined in Cremaster 1. Cremaster 2 embodies this regressive impulse through its looping narrative, moving from 1977, the year of Gary Gilmore’s execution, to 1893, when Harry Houdini, who may have been Gilmore’s grandfather, performed at the World’s Columbian Exposition. The film is structured around three interrelated themes – the landscape as witness, the story of Gilmore (played by Barney), and the life of bees – that metaphorically describe the potential of moving backward in order to escape one’s destiny. —Wikipedia
Matthew Barney was born in San Francisco in 1967; at age six, he moved to Idaho with his family. After his parents divorced, Barney continued to live with his father in Idaho, playing football on his high school team, and visiting his mother in New York City, where he was introduced to art and museums. This intermingling of sports and art informs his work as a sculptor and filmmaker. After graduating from Yale in 1991, Barney entered the art world to almost instant controversy and success. He is best known as the producer and creator of the “CREMASTER” films, a series of five visually extravagant works created out of sequence (“CREMASTER 4” began the cycle, followed by “CREMASTER 1,” etc.). The films generally feature Barney in myriad roles, including characters as diverse as a satyr, a magician, a ram, Harry Houdini, and even the infamous murderer Gary Gilmore. The title of the films refers to the muscle that raises and lowers the male reproductive system according to temperature… read more
While it does help to understand what Barney is referencing in his works, I think you can appreciate them regardless, just as you can appreciate Ulysses or Gravity's Rainbow or a painting without understanding every metaphor and allusion. If there was nothing outside of the mythologies, I don't think many people would consider Barney to be a great artist (I'd like to think they wouldn't anyway!).
I liked the components a lot more than the whole. There were some really beautiful parts -- the mirrors and mirroring water, truly impressive bee wrangling, some really cool sculptures, lovely music. I am annoyed that this didn't make much sense until I read the synopsis afterwords. You kind of need to know the Gilmore stuff beforehand. A lot darker than I expected, and again, confusing dominatrixes. Cool though.