David Altmejd

as part of LustWarande 2008-Wanderland

28 June - 31 August 2008

The New North 2007
Wood, foam, expandable foam, resin, paint, Magic-Sculpt, Magic-Smooth, epoxy, glue, mirror, horse hair, wire, quartz crystal, 369x135x107 cm

Just as in 2004, the project space at De Pont will again be serving as an extra location for the international sculpture exhibition Lustwarande, to be held in the Tilburg park De Oude Warande for the third time this summer. Four years ago De Pont housed work by the Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto; now a giant figure by David Altmejd (Montreal, 1974) is being shown in the project space. Lustwarande 08 – Wanderland deals with the theme of the grotesque and the mortal, and the work of this French Canadian artist seems to be virtually the embodiment of that.

After receiving his MFA from Columbia University’s School of Arts in New York, David Altmejd proved himself to be quite a successful artist within several years. His work involves the merging of opposites present in art and life: growth and decay, the organic and the inorganic, beauty and wretchedness. Altmejd draws on the visual vocabulary of the haunted house but also that of the world of glamour and design for his sculptures and installations. He makes use of a visual language that seems to embrace and undermine kitsch. A highlight so far in Altmejd’s relatively young career is his contribution to the 2007 Venice Biennial. There he transformed the Canadian pavilion into a Wunderkammer, both enchanting and horrifying. Huge bird-like creatures were reflected in mirrors lining the walls; amputated parts of werewolves lay in display cases like precious relics; stuffed birds, artificial flowers, crystals and other treasures appeared in the most unexpected arrangements.

Since producing a number of works in which the werewolf plays a key role, Altmejd has recently started focusing on the notion of the giant. In The New North this mythical figure emerges in the advanced stages of decay. Apart from its classical contraposto pose, the hybrid figure has little in common with traditional sculpture. Incorporated into this mammoth work, well over three meters in height, are such materials as wood, synthetic resin, wire, horsehair, mirror glass and quartz. The eye has a wealth of things to discover.  

A stairway of mirrors winds along the hairy right leg, goes along the back of the left knee and just misses the genitals on its way into the abdomenal cavity. A tangle of wires can be seen where a head is supposed to be; as a nerve center it maintains the connection with other parts of the body. This giant’s armpit holds depictions of young men; the cavities of the body resemble caves. Wasting flesh has become crystallized in places, assuming the shiny, angular form of quartz fragments. Here the body can be seen as a universe – as landscape, architecture and form, all in one.

Despite the many narrative opportunities provided by these sculptures, they never end up becoming a coherent story. Altmejd deliberately seeks the antithetical effects and connotations of materials, forms, images and symbols, not in order to introduce harmony, but to create an energy generated by the clash of so many opposites. Energy, but also autonomy, is a central idea in Altmejd’s view of art. One of his main criteria for a strong image is to be surprised by it himself, that it makes him laugh or confuses him or even embarrases him. That is the point at which the sculpture stands on its own two legs as a living organism which, in all its alienating complexity, demands attention – not for what it is supposed to be, but for what it is.