David Altmejd, The Vessel (2011), plexiglas, chain, plaster, wood, thread, wire, acrylic paint, epoxy resin, epoxy clay, acrylic gel, granular medium, quartz, pyrite, assorted minerals, adhesive, wire, pins, and needles, 260.4 × 619.8 × 219.7 cm. NGC. © David Altmejd, Courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York
David Altmejd was born in Montreal in 1974, but now divides his time between New York and London. He rose to international acclaim early in his career, attracting widespread interest for his series of larger-than-life werewolf sculptures: creatures that seem perpetually caught between becoming and devolving, their bodies spliced with mirrors, crystals, plastic jewels and other incongruous materials.
Interested in the transfer of energy from one form to another, and the ways in which sculpture might be able to harness this life force, Altmejd conceives his works as elaborate stage sets, upon which he can bring to life fantastical scenarios populated by beings in a constant state of metamorphosis. He is fascinated by the folkloric tradition that werewolves occupy a space “in-between” human and animal, good and evil, Nature and culture. As explained by the artist in a 2004 interview, “The energy related to the transformation . . . crystallizes and becomes an energy-generating object. The architectural structure I use in the installation presents the object in a way that triggers this energy, and circulates or channels it throughout the piece.”
Since representing Canada at the Venice Biennale in 2007, where he transformed the pavilion into a prismatic backdrop for his sculptures, Altmejd’s works have become increasingly elaborate containers or vitrines that harness this energy. They have also taken on a new dimension, focusing more on the transfer of creative forces from the artist’s hand to his materials. Because he considers the act of making art a way of continuing this energy shift, Altmejd now deliberately leaves traces of himself in his plaster and clay, often using his own body as a mould or form.
Limited only by his imagination and the physical constraints of his chosen working materials, large-scale installations such as The Holes and Vessel, in the collection of the National Gallery, include a mixture of organic materials such as trees, branches, eggs, and taxidermy birds and animals, as well as inorganic elements including clay, crystals, mirrors, beads and plaster. His works are reminiscent of otherworldly terrariums, in which organisms seethe with a visceral energy that is continually being transferred between animate objects, humans and their environment.
Shows, collections and exhibition history
In 2009, Altmejd received the Sobey Art Award, Canada’s pre-eminent award for contemporary art. He has had solo exhibitions at the Gallery Met at The Metropolitan Opera, New York (2008); the Centre National d’Art Contemporain, Grenoble (2009); the Vanhaerents Art Collection, Brussels (2010); and The Brant Foundation Art Study Center, Greenwich, CT (2011). His work can be found in the collections of Les Abattoirs, Toulouse; the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Annandale-on- Hudson, New York; the Dallas Museum of Art; the Galerie de l’UQAM, Montreal; the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.