Saturday, January 31, 2015

David Altmejd, Flux. @ Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

The text accompanying the exhibition of David Altmejd’s work at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris claims that the work bears resemblance to that of Matthew Barney, but this works seemed to me more sophisticated and more interesting than anything Barney does. There may be similar references and motifs, but Altmejd’s art appears more complex and has a life outside of itself, rescuing it from the navel gazing that pervades Barney’s films in particular.

Giants turn into buildings, trees, inhabiting a fantasy or a dream. Mirrors, hair, wood, painted, stuffed animals, precious minerals, create complex worlds in which inhabitants would get lost, that is, if there was a possibility of habitation inside Altmejd’s environments and installations. For the most part, nothing holds its form. Any resemblance of the human in these figures is always in the process of transformation, dissolution into something else. Simultaneously, objects, both animate and inanimate are always brought together to make people. Figures dissolve, feet melt, a man made of hands in The Pit, 2011, both perfectly and barely resembles the body as we know it.

The question I kept asking as I walked through the Altmejd exhibition was what to make of the metamorphoses into abjection, the forms’ and figures’ absence of boundaries, where the lines between man and birds, men and bananas, have melted? The bodybuilder series was, for me, a place to begin to understand the sculptures. Not only is the body melting in these works, but so are the steps the figure is climbing. In the Untitled examples of this series, the figures are all engaged in an activity that is the very opposite of body building. Indeed as forms, the disintegrating bodies would dispute any suggestion of body building. In clear reference to classical figures they stand erect on their mirrored plinths, but these forms are bodies without insides, about so much more than the perfection for which classical sculpture and men at the gym both strive. So what’s the meaning in all these repulsive figures? The frailty of the human body? Man as a palette? Or are we as humans reduced to anxiety and trauma as hands scratch and tear at bodies that will soon cease to exist?

Exhibition View 
The references made by the sculptures seem to be endless: Abercrombie, the Winged Venus, David, Duchamp. But it is in their own grotesque contradiction, outside of any history to which they might belong that the figures are most captivating: They all stand erect, even if they are eaten from the inside, wasting away. They all pose, are made of plaster, have a sense of dignity, but they no longer exist. Precious and perfect, and simultaneously, repulsive and disgusting.

As the exhibition progresses the works become increasingly observant of order, structure, categorization. Intricately sculpted scenes, environments, made of glass and mirror, crystals and plexiglass begin as orderly, but are promptly confused when it looks as though a bomb has been set off in the middle of it all. Threads, feathers, jewels, pineapples with screaming mouths, heads that are decapitated and multiplied. Chaos created by thick goo, bleeding black rubber puts an end to any semblance of order that may have existed. I kept thinking it was a bleak world, only to be reminded by explosions of glitter and reflected light, that it might all be a big joke.

Eventually, at the end of the exhibition the form becomes unrecognizeable, not human or animal or vegetable or mineral. Just one big mess. While the  mess doesn’t disintegrate, it holds its shape as mess, it is somehow more traumatic because all reference to familiar form is gone. These are strange, uncertain, but somehow joyously playful works.

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