Wednesday, April 27, 2011

David Altmejd at Andrea Rosen Gallery (revision)

David Altmejd’s two large Plexiglas works fill up the main room at Andrea Rosen Gallery. The works are large, approximately 2 x 4 square meters each, located on low pedestals they shimmer like aquariums in the dimly lit space. In the exhibition there are also wall pieces made of plaster, freestanding sculptures and other Plexiglas works in the gallery’s inner room and entrance.

The two Plexiglas works are titled "The Vessel" and "The Swarm", they are beautiful and ethereal in their transparency. The spaces inside the boxes are divided into smaller parts by intricate constructions of Plexiglas levels and walls. In, between, and through the Plexiglas pieces run bits of sewing thread. Most of them are white; creating architectural lines that connect the Plexiglas pieces with each other. Some of the threads are in the colors of rainbow— from yellow to green or yellow to red— and together they pierce through the Plexiglas pieces to create different kinds of forms. The forms are reminiscent of highly stylized flowers or electrical wires. There are also small objects of white plaster incorporated in both constructions; some of them look like lumps and an assortment of human body parts. They are all integrated in to the large aquarium-like boxes, like dioramas people can walk around and see in detail.

In "The Vessel" there are stacks of Plexiglas, creating different shelf like spaces. One of them is covered with plaster noses in bright colors displayed like jewelry in a store window. The overall shape is mimicking the form of one or several swans through the various materials contained within it. This makes the Plexiglas box more of a display case, showing us an extraordinary creature, or parts of bird species. Inspecting the overall appearance of this piece requires time; all the details together in this large work demand the viewer to look slowly and thoroughly.

In the bottom of the Plexiglas part of the sculpture are white plaster hands which seem to have dug out pieces of the pedestal. The podium incorporated with the piece makes the whole work relate more to the floor and the space it is situated. The wall pieces seem to depict the same kind of the human hands, body and the negative space of a human body, but since they are going in and coming out of the galley walls the connection to the space is more obvious. The transition between the Plexiglas pieces and the plaster sculpture is a little awkward, the plaster sculpture is not as delicately handled, and it is actually quite the opposite. The material is lumpy and grotesque, like a child playing with clay.

"The Swarm" is the other large Plexiglas piece. It combines sculptures of ants and ears in a maze of levels and thread. It is livelier, with more colored thread, but it does not have the same overall shape within the box like "The Vessel". "The Swarm" becomes more of a laboratory where we can see ears and ants, in a labyrinth of threads, trying to escape or breaking in to the Plexiglas box. It is exciting because both "The Vessel" and "The Swarm" give the viewer room for imagination; we can place it in our own narrative and put it out of the gallery context.

"Architect 2" is installed in the inner room of the gallery. A larger than life body seems to be dug out from the wall with big angel wings. At the end of the narrow space the angel-like figure is centered similarly to how Jesus figures in churches are placed. This is one of the several white plaster sculptures that are in the exhibition. It is also made in the lumpy and awkward style. Where the Plexiglas boxes have as an otherworldly quality the sculptures are literal in the religious reference. In front of the plaster piece is a Plexiglas box containing stones and minerals. The minerals in the glass box, together with the angel like shapes, brings nature and religion together in a way that make me think of “New Age” aesthetics. This work seems to be more kitsch-oriented than the other Plexiglas boxes suggest.

Altmejd’s older work is a lot of freestanding sculptures in a kitsch aesthetic with polyester hair, heavy painted flesh surfaces and deconstructed bodies. He also has a body of Plexiglas work that has a cleaner and more controlled aesthetic. The plaster sculptures in Andrea Rosen Gallery have a visual connection to Paul Thek’s work; a bizarre, disgusting and intriguing language, fresh in my mind from the Whitney Museum exhibition. For Thek, that language was more about the artist himself and his relation to his body. In Altmejd’s work the language seems more calculated to evoke a reaction from the viewer. The freestanding sculptures are not made in the same aesthetic language as the boxes; there is a disconnect between the works but maybe an intended one. When the Plexiglas constructions take on a clean, perfected style with a lot of beautiful details the contrast between the heavy molded sculptures are too big to feel connected. The gallery is not an environment that helps that relationship either, these works do not seem to exist in the same world. If the works were installed in a different environment, a church, in nature or a laboratory, it would be easier to see them as an installation, in relation to each other but still disconnected.

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