Tag Archives: sculpture

Contemporary Art (2) – David Altmejd


David Altmejd (b. 1974 Montreal) is a Canadian artist – a sculptor/installation artist – who shares his work-place between Montreal and London. Since graduating with his MFA (2001), he has taken part in many high profile group shows at important spaces as impressive as Artists Space and Deitch Projects, both in New York City. In 2007, he was Canada’s officially selected national artist for the Venice Biennale at the Canadian Pavilion, curated by Louise Déry. Altmejd is represented in New York City by Andrea Rosen Gallery and Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London.


Altmejd’s grandiosely-scaled sculptures and installations are like the Hitchcock’s celluloid narrative and the High Baroque poems embodied: they’re monstrous, formless, excessive, bizarre, creepy, impossible – they seem to be hanged on a very thin line of the common sense, the postmodern ‘hybrid-werewolf’ aesthetics and the boundaries of the laws of physics.

They have grown out of the artist’s existential need to create ‘huge, super-intense objects in this world’ (Altmejd in one of the interviews) that would work as a shock therapy – I do exist! Using random, both fairly grotesque and quite ‘common’ materials, such as decapitated werewolf heads (for which he ‘earned’ the ‘werewolf man’ nickname), stained Calvin Klein underwear, faux hair, towers made of mirrors, plastic flowers, electronic and steel elements etc. he awakes the fairy-tales, mythology and horror-movies most atrocious, deadly ‘aliens’ and ‘beasts’ that would keep us awake in beds in childhood and sinisterly amused throughout our entire, adult life.

Altmejd’s purposefully audacious propositions are bizarrely seductive and irrationally convincing; they possess the energy and dark charisma, which provokes mind-teasing dilemma like: why, generally speaking, do we find those beastly incarnations so alluring (just think about the evergreen pop-cults of Dracula, Alien – series or Hannibal‘s story), why do those monsters keep coming back through ages in different forms/concepts? Is it maybe that we need them to be more ‘human’, or – perhaps they do us a favour of symbolizing and abstracting those of our ‘persona’ that our conscious, sensible mind would have never admitted to be existing in the first place…?


Modern Sculpture – what is this?

British Museum in London hosts an interesting sculpture project – Statuephilia – open just until 25 January 2009 (see here for details), so – hurry up, anyone interested… It features recent work of six distinguished, contemporary artists: Antony Gormley, Damien Hirst, Ron Mueck, Noble and Webster (they present one collaborative piece) and Marc Quinn. The sculptures are ‘hidden’ among the artifacts of the permanent collection, which introduces an element of a play, a surprise and a fascinating dialogue with the history and different cultures. I remember, being in a hurry, I couldn’t find Hirst’s proposition – after glancing impatiently the glass cabinets filled in with countless antiquities, bones, masks etc. I asked a member of the staff: ‘Hirst – please’ – and she pointed towards a cabinet, just few yards away, full of brightly coloured, plastic sculls02 – which, obviously, I failed to notice on my own… Not being a particular fan of this artistic ‘celebrity’ of today, I just had to admit it – it was so simple and brilliant – Hirst’s exposition, difficult to digest in any other context, worked very well there, teasing the solemn contents of the room and the ‘elevated’ expectations of the visitors (at the same time, making evident existential comments on the human condition in general).

Ron Mueck’s hyper-real self-portrait: Face II – 2002 (look my photo – above) makes you think about the “Big Brother”‘s eye scrutinizing every imperfection of your daring image, and about Leonardo’s anatomical drawings where faces of would-be angels has been transformed into the knots of muscles, and about your post-mortem mask – defenseless facing stares and comments, and… about many other things. Quite to the contrary – Antony Gormley’s huge, winged statue: Case for an Angel I – 1989 (look my photo – below) takes a bird-view on the human condition.  It greets visitors with a wings-giving message – there is an angel hidden in us, the wings are there to stretch them out and to learn how to fly – again, very simple language,  yet bearing quite an intense compilation of meanings.03

Generally, the show proves the strength of the contemporary sculpture as an artistic discipline and the means of an artist’s self-expression. Answering question from the title and in a described context: What is the modern/contemporary sculputre? It’s a meaningful, distinct voice making eager, expressive figurative/human figure-based comments; it’s a playful and provocative proposition able to engage the modern viewer into a thoughtful interaction; and it’s a grandgrandhild of all great artworks of the ancient past – still willing to keep a dialogue with the tradition. I really enjoyed that exhibition, looking forward for similar collaborative projects around Europe…

Few not-modern notes on humanity…

Quite recently I’ve got an interesting, half-an-hour talk about nothing. It happened to be focused on modern art, modern human condition, place for beauty and ethics within it and, after making a heroic round in escaping its inbuilt vacuum it came to the point of an inception – to a rather corny remark that ‘nonsense’ seems to be a surname of today’s existence. How to make art in the modern chaos and to remain sane? Although Louis Bourgeois wrote in her painting that Art is the warranty of sanity she wrote also I’ve been in Hell and back, and let me tell you – it was wonderful. Going to Hell is the condition of the modern artist, whether s/he comes back and is ready to admit that it was wonderful is a quite another, usually very personal story.

Since my partner in the above-mentioned chat was far from being just an average, junior, intelligent guy who finds ‘fashionable’ to talk post-modern slogans (no matter how out of place they are), we’ve managed to make a way for some deeper observations. Yet everything seemed to slip through our fingers – any sense, any understanding of each other. Why is it so difficult to communicate on a level, where any social game must to disappear in the presence of truth? Why in the age of gutsy exhibitionism, omnipresent ‘display’ of human ‘values’ we are mute and/or extremely amateurish when it comes to formulate, understand and convey basic reflection on our existential condition? I wonder what was that ancient Greek spoke about, or people of 18th century France, or even contemporaries of Hemingway, Kafka, Dostojewski? Have they been taught the art of communicating oneself to others or maybe times they lived in encouraged it in the most natural fashion?

So we talked about beauty which became something terribly old-fashioned, neglected and misunderstood. After Picasso and the modern rest ridiculed classical rules of harmony and pleasure it seems to be quite trendy to make art that disturbs, wipes out smile and joy; art of dark colours, sad faces and deliberately nonchalant in appearance. Even if beauty occurs it’s very often accidental, has nothing in common with beliefs and aspirations of an artist. Majority of work in my college is like that, my own work oscillates between ‘blue’ and darkness of being alive here and now… What a waste of a pair of healthy hands. Why not to aspire to be the next Cezanne or Canova? Why not to aspire to make the happiest, the most beautiful paintings/sculptures ever? Why even these questions sound ridiculously?

It was the eternal beauty of art in Paris that grabbed my mind and heart. Who knows – maybe it’s the right time for a new Renaissanse, for rediscovering once again value and sense in our human condition? That could be even interesting…

Just for the classical taste, few shots of The Louvre’s treasures I took during my trip to Paris:

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