‘david altmejd’ installation view at andrea rosen gallery (may 3 – june 14, 2008) ©david altmejd (photo by tom powel)

david altmejd burst onto the contemporary art scene seemingly out of nowhere. the young sculptor began exhibiting at small galleries in his hometown of montréal and then made the move to new york. since graduating with an mfa from columbia university in 2001, he has participated in a number of high profile shows in new york and abroad, including the 2003 istanbul biennial and the 2004 whitney biennial. then, only 6 years after graduating, he was selected to represent canada in the 2007 venice biennale. this made him one of the youngest artists ever chosen to represent their country in the prestigious exhibit.

david altmejd david altmejd’ installation view at andrea rosen gallery (may 3 – june 14, 2008) ©david altmejd (photo by tom powel)

david altmejd ‘the center’, 2008 (mixed media) ©david altmejd (photo by ellen page wilson)

cast of characters the unusual nature of altmejd’s work is perhaps one of the key reasons behind his quick rise to prominence. figures made from an assortment of plaster, morphed mannequin parts, animal heads, crystals and birds are his primary subject. he combines these things together to create a fantastical world that plays with the conventions of reality. a dying werewolf with mirrored crystals spouting out of it and a giant’s head filled with tiny rooms like a dollhouse are only some of the scenes depicted in his artwork. his work thus occupies a niche in the contemporary art world which is very much his own.

altmejd has stated that he explores a fantasy world in his work because it serves as a device with which he can put reality into perspective. for example, altmejd very rarely chooses to portray human figures because he believes they are over-explored in art. instead, he depicts mythical creatures like werewolves and giants. while surreal and fantastical, these figures still have many human-like characteristics. this proximity to reality allows viewers to relate to his characters, but there is still enough of a difference to create a weird tension.

david altmejd ‘the spiderman’, 2008 (mixed media) ©david altmejd (photo by ellen page wilson)

david altmejd ‘you’, 2008 (mixed media) ©david altmejd (photo by ellen page wilson)

david altmejd ‘the index’, 2007 (mixed media) detail view at the canadian pavilion during the 52nd venice biennale image © designboom

david altmejd ‘the giant 2’ 2007 (mixed media) installation view at the canadian pavilion during the 52nd venice biennale ©david altmejd (photo by ellen page wilson)

david altmejd ‘the giant 2’ 2007 (mixed media) installation view at the canadian pavilion during the 52nd venice biennale image © designboom

symbols and energy while altmejd’s work has evolved over time, he maintains a clear trajectory. despite variations among his individual projects,his perspective and formal language is evident throughout. but altmejd shies away from the suggestion that his work has a language, instead he describes his role in making his art more like a curator, combining images and symbols that have ‘meaning potential’ to create an energy. this energy, is what he believes fills his art with meaning. as the viewer is presented with his art, the symbols and their juxtapositions interact to create an energy.

however, while the assortment of images and symbols he selects would hint at an intentional subtext, the artist focuses on undefined narratives. his choices are intentional but the associated meanings are not, he leaves this up to the viewer. unlike most contemporary art, altmejd doesn’t encourage the viewer to decode the artistic meaning behind his works. he creates work with no intention of communicating a specific idea, much to the chagrin of many critics searching for meaning behind his art. for him, it is more important to create something that is uncontrolled and unresolved.

david altmejd ‘david altmejd speaks during the 52nd venice biennale image © designboom

venice after successful shows at a number of prestigious galleries and renowned museums, altmejd’s career hit its highest point when he was invited to represent canada at the 2007 venice art biennale. with the eyes of the art world on him, altmejd assembled a multi-faceted installation he titled ‘the index’. this work proved to be a culmination of his young career, resulting in an expansive work that filled the canadian pavilion.

the installation featured two main sculptures, one that features two platforms connected by a mirrored bridge and a second which portrays a decomposing giant sitting against the wall. the first piece is dotted with small details like squirrels, birds, trees and flowers. on top of the platforms stand life-size creatures with human bodies and bird heads featuring testicles hanging under their chins. one of the birdmen sits inside a structure of mirrors while the other two stand like suited fashion mannequins, one of which clutches a decapitated werewolf head. the second sculpture is a reclining giant, who sits on the ground leaning against the wall. his body is in complete decay, with gapping holes all over. inside these cavities, mirrored crystals, mushrooms, birds and wildlife abounds.

more ‘the index’ at the 2007 venice biennale

david altmejd david altmejd in his studio (photo via the selby)

david altmejd works in progress in david altmejd’s studio (photo via the selby)

new work since his venice installation, interest in altmejd’s work has grown immensely. he has continued to show his work in galleries all over the world and expand his creative vision. the latest phase of his oeuvre was summed up in his most recent solo show at andrea rosen gallery in mid-2008. the show featured a fresh crop of fantastical characters, that unlike their predecessors, didn’t stand on sprawling bases covered in surreal landscapes. in these new works, altmejd’s figures stand alone on simple flat plinths. this evolution is a direct result of altmejd’s belief that the body is a world of its own, ‘a total universe’. rather than inhabiting the landscape of a fantasyland, these characters are in themselves the landscape.

while altmejd approached these giants differently than his previous works, they still contain his trademark vocabulary. the first sculpture is entitled ‘the cave, it is a tall tapped obelisk reflecting the giants around it. ‘you’ is a plaster giant covered in muted pastel tones complete with mirror crystals and protruding fists. it sits in between ‘figure’ a multi-coloured wire skeleton and ‘the spiderman’ a human-like giant that has wire fields emanating from its hands, chest and head. the next row features two giants made completely from geometric forms covered in mirror. one is solid and rock –like while the other is delicate and fragmented. ‘the shepherd’ is the third giant in this row, he is covered in dark hair and shielding his face with his arm. crystals grow from his chest and feet, where a staircase emerges winding around him. in the last row, there are two abstract wire sculptures and a cross-armed giant that is being ripped apart from within. these statuesque works make clear references to classical sculpture and renaissance masters. but as always altmejd doesn’t have something to present to viewers, he leaves the material to construct meaning on its own.

david altmejd david altmejd in his studio (photo via the selby)

david altmejd ‘le berger’, 2008 (mixed media) ©david altmejd (photo by ellen page wilson)

about david altmejd was born in montréal, canada in 1974. he studied art at the université du québec à montréal, graduating in 1998. he had his solo show debut this same year, exhibiting in a number of montréal galleries. he then moved to new york to pursue his masters of fine art degree at columbia university. he continued exhibiting his work back in montréal and graduated in 2001. his work has since been shown in new york, london and other cities around the world. in addition, he has had his work exhibited in the 8th istanbul biennial and the 2007 venice biennial, where he represented canada. he now lives and works in queens, new york. he is represented by stuart shave/modern art in london and andrea rosen gallery in new york.

david altmejd ‘the glasswalker’, 2006 © david altmejd

david altmejd ‘the university 2’, 2004 (mixed media) installation view at andrea rosen gallery (october 22 – november 27, 2004) © david altmejd (photo by oren slor)

david altmejd ‘the outside, the inside, and the praying mantis’, 2005 (mixed media) © david altmejd (photo by rob kassabian)

david altmejd ‘the old sculptor’, 2003 (mixed media) © david altmejd (photo by adam reich)

links andrea rosen gallery http://www.andrearosengallery.com stuart shave / modern art http://www.modernart.net