I just returned from the David Altmejd show at the Musee D’art Contemporain , it had been a long time time since I had visited my friends at the MAC. I guess in truth I was burnt out. I was tired of not getting it. My personal jealousy of the success of contemporary artists was making it hard for me to see what was in front of me. I felt like a lost voyager being left in the past, struggling to understand the future that stood before me. David Altmejd’s work struck me as such. He was one of the those artists that had me wondering…. Thankfully this retrospective set things straight.
So I had seen Mr.Altmejds works many, many times before. I think I even talked to him once at the unveiling of his sculpture at the Beau Arts. Somehow when previously looking at his works I always felt slighted. It is the way I think most people feel when looking at “CONTEMPORAY ART”…. the funny thing about being duped is no one ever likes to admit it. SO there always seems to be a certain uncomfortable silence that goes along with the stunned looks as viewers leave a gallery. Like a conman telling you, you just got a good deal as he stole your last penny most people are unsure whether they just saw good art or whether it good because it was in a “proper setting” and they were told so. Er maybe even worse I needed to afraid to admit my intelligence just robbed at gun point. These are the type of questions that leave the viewer frustrated and dissapointed but to scared to admit to anyone they didn’t understand it. It was how I felt when looking at the work of David Altmejd. Never certain whether his heavy handed, unfinished looking representations were part of his style with a deeper meaning then I could understand or whether he was just another undeveloped talent getting the push because of the lack of talent the “CONTEMPORAY ART WORLD” had to offer. This show proved me otherwise.
Now I will be the first to admit I rarely read the press package er listen to anything anyone is saying before I see a show (that is how they dupe you) I even rarely read the titles of the works…. (another way the dupe ya). I am a go with my gut kindda guy and if a work speaks to me either singularly or as a collective at a show, it does, if it don’t, it don’t and I leave it it at that. All the intellectual diarrhea one can throw at a wall wont change that. I am also the biggest skeptic in the room always looking for the slight of hand. put that together and I guess I tend to miss somethings, That with my education in art also gives me a much different perspecitive than most other viewers, which there by gives me a much different view of most shows and most art.
From the moment I stepped into this retrospective I some how knew it was different. Rather than foaming at the mouth and beast-fully devouring the show as I tore through the works , I found myself stopping and listening to what THEY HAD TO SAY. Collectively they spoke to me in a different language then I had heard before. Mr. Altmejd’s style was ever present with guttural installations from a melange of mixed media including glass, crystal, wire, clay, human hair, mirrors, lighting and the environment in which they were set. Part sculptor, part environment giving the space the feeling of a B-grade sc-fi movie from the time when I was a kid.
This time when confronted with the works there was a certain completeness I hadn’t understood before. Maybe it had been my need for a certain completeness that had made me misunderstand the work before! Maybe it had been the fact I felt I had lived these creatures and environments 20 years earlier as as a child in such films and T.V. shows such as Logan’s Run, Buck Rogers, Krull and Battlestar Galactica. This time when viewing these works there was a certian finished asthetic I hadn’t understood before. maybe it was my need for “completely rendered object” that had made me miss the point before. Maybe that need was satisfied through fresh eyes. I think it was about half way through the show when I finally understood twhat Mr.Altmejd had been saying to me .The reoccurring theme throughout the works struck me like a hammer, the hammer used to smash mirrors throughout these instilations .
Mr. Admjed’s work was not about half composed grotesque creatures manufactured from disguarded objects left as waste with the intent of reconstructing the imaginary world and creatures from childhood movies. The undertone in this work was evolution, humans manipulation of the natural world, it’s effects on our envioroment and the eventual counter action from that.The creation, de-evolution and decomposition that will take place as a result. Progress and nature’s reaction to it.. These works are artistic representations of the world that is rapidly changing around us. Subtle reference to the not to distant future. Representing the world as it changed natuirally through the law of natural selection and the changes that correspond with our influence and interference. (hence his reoccureing theme of the human hand through out many works.)
Natural objects are seen morphing into humanesque figures representing humanities state of being as it is. These humans often evolve further into part animal beings with humanesque characteristics( humans manipulation??? the enviorments response???) This continual “evolution” then leads to its natural “Flux” of decomposition. These beings are often seen through encasements or structures. These “structures” are are created from glass, wire, thread. At first the viewers see these simply as encasments for the works. Further insight leads one to believe that these are not meant as containers but actually are part of the works themselves. The encasement are man made with man man made objects. Often “organic parts or beings in these structures “come through” or break out of their cases. Seemly signifying the glass we are looking through are simply “barriers” through which we view our enviorment. Or how we are “connected” to the world in which we are surrounded by. It is as though we are slightly seperated, blinded by the surrounding of the world we created, Our vision obscured by the “unnatural” world which we have created as to the world in which we actually live. thereby also effecting the “evolution” or the direction of both our speices and our world.
Through out these works animals we recognize as being extinct or close to exctinct are seen in various states of decomposition or maybe as partialy constructed. The idea of partial construction is actually an illusion as the animals are being deconstructed to a point of nothingness. Eluding to a future that is impacted both by natural as well as man made influences (hybride createures) The man made changes are often seen influenceing enviorments outside our awarness as mirrors are broken outside of the viewers direct vision yet still placed with in direct contection of the sculptures themselves.
The subtle irony of all this, is that,we chase the idea of progression with the pretense or thought that progress will lead to a “better” place. Ironiclly as suggested in certian works progress has the power to take us to greater states. Consequently as we look at these works and the world around us it can be clearly seen this state of progress has lead us slightly off track. Instead of progress possible the majority has been lead to a cullture of consumption and status. Status through image and through consumption. Which there by further pulls us from our natural state and further effects the world we in which we live.
There is a subtlte irony that underlines the work as a whole in the fact that all the works suggest man drive or desire for progression or “moving forward” and our manipulation to make it happen further pushes us to a state in which we have less control. Much like the hurrieed lives we live, there is almost a race or quickness a to the works . We are sepperated friom the works/or reality through the looking glass so to speak. That seperation from our natural world creates the way we as a society views progress… instead of digging deep finding spiritual bliss, creating new ideas, or developing socially we get lost in the ideals of climbing the corperate ladder , Social status , MASS consumption and SELF IMPORTANCE. All at the expense of the world and IMPORTANT things around us. Further pulling us from our natural state increasing the speed in which we decimate our natural earth . Thereby increasing our need to cling to the society and technology we have created around us.
So coming around full circle Mr.Altmejd ‘s work REALLY is just a subtle references to B grade Sci Fi Films we would have seen as kids ( I did my home work and he is about my age) Not your average shoot em up cowboys in space type of movie though. It ends up being the more deep underlying message those films were WARNING US ABOUT, the ones we may have missed while digging the cool space creatures all the F/X we could have only imagined previously. the messages we might not have gotten that none the less resonated deep within us. Those lesson that are now more prevallent then ever. As techknology has now advanced to the degree it is almost beyond us. The final lesson in this reterospective is not only about what it means to be human in our present time but also a deep deep lesson in installation and modern art. In that if you look at this work long enough one has to ask “What have I seen, What does it represent and how is it a reflection of US?”