Matthew Barney: River of Fundament — The Film


For seven years, artist Matthew Barney (b. 1967) worked on his project "River of Fundament" in collaboration with the composer Jonathan Bepler. The Gesamtkunstwerk is inspired by American author Norman Mailer and his sprawling, controversial novel "Ancient Evenings", published in 1983. The project comprises the epic-length symphonic film "River of Fundament", three performances, 14 large-scale sculptures weighing up to 25 tons, drawings, photographs, storyboards, and vitrines. On March, 16, Haus der Kunst and Bayerische Staatsoper presented the European premiere of Matthew Barney's symphonic film. 

In addition to the film premiere at the Bavarian State Opera, Haus der Kunst plans to present additional screenings of "River of Fundament". The dates will be soon announced on our website. 

Taking the American landscape as its backdrop, the film "River of Fundament" is an epic story of regeneration and rebirth, set in three major American cities – Los Angeles, Detroit, and New York. The film follows the death and reincarnation of two principal characters, who take the form of Norman Mailer and an anthropomorphic automobile. The film was conceived of as a contemporary opera in three parts that combines documentary footage of three live acts – "Ren", "Khu" und "Ba" – performed in the three cities, with live-action cinema, largely set in a careful recreation of Mailer's Brooklyn brownstone apartment, where the late author's wake is underway. Each part of the film includes one of the live acts that follow the narrative of the automobile. Aspects of the protagonist's will and desire for transformation are illustrated by each car: the 1967 Chrysler Imperial from "Cremaster 3" in "Ren" (2008), a 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am in "Khu" (2010), and a 2001 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor in "Ba" (2013).

In Ancient Evenings, Mailer's protagonist, the nobleman Menenhetet I, uses magic and trickery in order to become reincarnated three times in the womb of his wife, who then becomes his mother. In each attempt at reincarnation, the undead must cross the river of feces to attain new life, with the goal of changing his corporeal status from that of nobleman to pharaoh. In his third and final attempt to transform, Menenhetet III becomes stuck in the womb, failing to reincarnate. In "River of Fundament", Barney recasts "Norman" in the role of the protagonist, as he endures two rebirths, failing in the third, in hopes of attaining a higher status among the ancestry of Great American Letters. The looming spirit of Hemingway haunts Norman as he transitions from one body to the next. Rivers and thoroughfares dominate the landscape, evoking the river of feces described in Mailer's novel – manmade and natural arteries transport the protagonist on his journey from death to rebirth.

River of Fundament features a notable and diverse cast. Specialists from various industrial processes – including large-scale iron smelting, automobile demolition, and sulfur casting – join dramatic actors Ellen Burstyn, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Paul Giamatti, John Buffalo Mailer, and Elaine Stritch. In addition, the film features characters from Barney and Jonathan Bepler's previous collaboration "Cremaster 3", including characters played by Barney and Aimee Mullins. As in Bepler's previous explorations of sound and its potential as a vehicle to channel transgressive states, River of Fundament's musical component is an autonomous element that shapes the subliminal drives at play within the storyline. Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler have worked together since "Cremaster 1" in 1995. Avant-garde vocalist Joan La Barbara, percussionist Milford Graves, baritones Eugene and Herbert Perry, funk/blues singer Belita Woods, singer Lila Downs, singer/songwriter Shara Worden, singer/actor Deborah Harry, composer/organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, and the Mystic River Singers (a Native American pow-wow group) lead an eclectic group of musicians.

Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, River of Fundament, 2014, Production Still, photo Hugo Glendinning

Stretch your view

Stretch your view

Exhibition catalogue

Matthew Barney: River of Fundament

With a foreword by Okwui Enwezor; contributions by Okwui Enwezor, Hilton Als, Diedrich Diederichsen, Homi K. Bhabha, and David Walsh. MORE


Matthew Barney: River of Fundament

17.03 – 17.08.14

With "River of Fundament" Haus der Kunst shows the most complex and ambitious project that Matthew Barney has made to date. MORE

Picture Gallery


Portals and Processions: Matthew Barney's "River of Fundament"

Essay by Okwui Enwezor MORE

In the press

Reviews on Matthew Barney's "River of Fundament"

Interviews, stories of performance participants, book reviews – here you find different press reactions to Matthew Barney's "River of Fundament". MORE


Worksheets on "Matthew Barney: River of Fundament"

Worksheets on topics related to the exhibition "Matthew Barney: River of Fundament" can be downloaded here (in German). MORE

Activity sheets

New: Riddle rally for parents and children

Activity sheet on "Matthew Barney: River of Fundament" MORE

Film screening

Kôshikei [Death by Hanging]


Film series dedicated to the topic of "living in the diaspora", as part of the exhibition series "Der Öffentlichkeit – Von den Freunden Haus der Kunst". Introduction: Suh Kyungsik MORE


Matthew Barney: Exhibition Film

Video on the exhibition "Matthew Barney: River of Fundament" and the European premiere of the symphonic-epic film by Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler. MORE


Matthew Barney: Video on the exhibition installation

Video on the installation of Matthew Barney's complex exhibition "River of Fundament". MORE


Matthew Barney: River of Fundament



Matthew Barney: River of Fundament