David Altmejd

A hugh source of inspiration to me is the artist David Altmejd who’s sculptures mix seemingly random objects such as decapitated werewolf heads with graffiti-style Stars of David, stained Calvin Klein underwear, towers made of mirrors, plastic flowers and faux jewelry, to create sculptural systems loaded with what he calls “symbolic potential” and open ended narratives. Werewolf heads have appeared so frequently in his work that in the contemporary art world, they are widely recognized as being closely affiliated with this artist.

One of the newest and for me one of his most inspiring works is ‘The Vessel’ which is made up of cast plaster hands, thread, plexy glass amongst other materials. Below are some excerps about this piece and his work from Andrea Rosen, writer for artnew.org who does an amazing job of describing the sculptural works.

© David Altmejd
The Vessel, 2011

These Plexiglas structures contain entire landscapes that are immensely and painstakingly detailed. Their scale and composition both encourage a close reading of details and yet purposefully disallow the viewer to grasp the whole all at once. For the first time, Altmejd will intervene into the architecture of the space with large scale sculptures scraped out of and embedded within the walls of the gallery. Just as the Plexiglas works represent a material shift from the exterior surface to the interior structure, between the inside and the outside, the embedded plaster sculptures turn space itself into an analogue of Altmejd’s investigation into notions of interiority and exteriority in his practice. As definitions between inside and outside become blurred, Altmejd shows them at once to be both malleable distinctions and part of a continuum.

At stake in these works is the fantasy of unity and containment. Just as Altmejd has shown how bodies can be so violently acted upon by interior and exterior forces, in his work the apparent neutrality and solidity of architecture is shown to be unable to contain the overflow of ideologies and agendas embedded within—the body of the space bursting and the walls becoming a porous membrane.
Altmejd’s work makes evident how growth and transformation is only possible from decay and how a sense of a work being alive is perceived most fully when beauty is contrasted with the abject. Set against a prevailing cultural and political headwind valuing tradition, certainty, and stasis, Altmejd’s work is a physical manifestation of an ideology of growth, change, and perpetual movement.

In Altmejd’s work, chaos and order are shown to be two related states that can generate each other. In one Plexiglas work titled The Vessel 2011, plaster casts of arms and hands form swanlike shapes, with the hands holding (or throwing) beaks formed from modeling clay. The hands collectively take on the shape of a cresting wave and embody the latent potential of that form as though tension is held in a perpetual climax. The line between violence and protection becomes blurred, as does our desire for one over the other.

Seen from the front, the composition appears nearly symmetrical, but upon closer inspection each side has been crafted individually with the symmetry of the structure becoming displaced by the subjectivity of individual choices. Conversely,  Whether Altmejd begins from a point of symmetry or from a point of disorder, his works are ultimately shaped by the individual choices made at each point of construction. These works suggest the organic logic of the crowd where individual decisions can collectively generate a more intelligent whole.
Altmejd’s works suggest a kind of infinite lineage with each work both exploring a particular idea and contributing to the opening of another. Rather than creating terminal artworks, complete and ossified, Altmejd’s works are manifestations of objects that are always transforming and forever open. Rather than crafting puzzles for viewers to solve, Altmejd generates structures and landscapes to inhabit.

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