At Andrea Rosen’s booth at Frieze New York yesterday, a small throng of visitors murmured in quiet appreciation of David Altmejd’s Le désert et la semence (2015), a large-scale installation composed of, among other things, synthetic hair, glass eyes, coconuts, and large mirror panels. (“I’m very interested in this,” one New York–based curator could be heard whispering to a colleague.) All together, the materials compose an alternative tableau of human evolution, one which starts at ground level and snakes around a mirror-plated stage, eventually rising to the ceiling.
Beginning at the bottom, white clay hands are shown molding sand and water into a wet, human head–size lump. At the next interval, the lump is replaced by a coconut, which then turns into an actual human head with defined facial features, which grows evermore hirsute over a few versions. During the next stage, the head turns wolfish, eventually morphing into the head of a rabid-looking werewolf. Some of the model heads are displayed inside plexiglass displays, lending them a pseudo-scientific, phrenological air.
“One of David’s major interests is transformation. He’s really interested in how things transform from one state to another,” a gallery representative told me. “You see how these hands are forming sand and liquid, which turns into a coconut, which then turns into a head, which then turns into a werewolf, which then starts all over again. David’s work often has these kind of motifs. Werewolves, for example, tend to be a motif in his work because they represent this kind of in-between creature, something between a human and an animal. He’s used angel figures in his work as well.”
The mirrors, which added a veneer of high-end retail glamour to the whole affair, were cracked and smashed in certain places, as though someone had lobbed a baseball through them. “He loves using shattered glass,” the rep said. “Mirrors, in particular, are a very invisible material. But, as soon as you shatter them, or create a hole in them, they suddenly become very material. Like all material objects, they become vulnerable to disfiguration. He loves this sort of potential in a material, one that can shift from being invisible to being sculptural with a change in texture.”
The piece is priced at $360,000, and as of yesterday afternoon was on hold for an institution.