"The most important American artist of his generation" according to Michael Kimmelman, Barney became an art world darling in the '90s with his freakish film series The Cremaster Cycle. He's also Bjork's baby daddy.
Barney split his high school years between Idaho (where he played football) and New York, where his painter mom lived. To earn extra money while studying at Yale, the hunky Barney did some modeling for Ralph Lauren, J. Crew, and Hugo Boss before moving to New York in 1989. He didn't have to pose for very long. Within two years he'd landed his first show at the Barbara Gladstone Gallery, an exhibition that mixed sculpture and video art and showed Barney nude, scaling the walls of the gallery like a mountain climber, with ice picks in hand. But it was his first Cremaster film in 1994 that made his reputation. Four other Cremaster installments have followed, each a surrealistic, wordless montage packed with bizarre characters. (Among other things you can expect to see: amputees, torture rituals, tapioca sculptures, chorus girls, Celtic mythology, and, of course, Barney, who appears as dozens of different characters.) In 2003, Barney's final film in the series was shown at a Guggenheim exhibition, which led the Times to glow that Barney was "the most compelling, richly imaginative artist to emerge in years." The artist's work is in the permanent collection at the Guggenheim, San Francisco MoMA, and Minnesota's Walker Art Center.
You're not going to find The Cremaster Cycle films, which total some seven hours, on DVD at your local video store. They're sold as limited edition art works—individually signed and wrapped up in elaborate packaging—and have been known to fetch more than $300,000 for a single disc. (Bootlegged copies occasionally pop up, however.) In 2006, Barney produced a non-Cremaster art film, Drawing Restraint 9, starring himself and his lady love Bjork. One scene features the two of them sitting in a room on a Japanese fishing boat; as the room slowly fills with liquid, Bjork and Barney proceed to cut off each other's legs and then turn into whales.
For the record
In case you're wondering, Cremaster takes its name from the cremaster muscle, which covers the testes.
Barney met his first wife Mary Farley, a southerner with a degree in forensic psychology, at the now-defunct Petersburg Gallery. He now lives with Iceland's most famous singer and pixie, Bjork. Though the two have never married, they had a daughter, Isadora, in 2002. They live in Morris Plains, N.J., in a house that once belonged to Noel Coward. Barney also has a studio on West 13th Street in the Meatpacking District.