In “Juices,” New York-based sculptor David Altmejd’s latest exhibition, one message rang clear: more is most definitely more. The show was dominated by The Flux and the Puddle (all works 2014), a room-filling construction consisting of transparent display boxes whose potential Miminalist reference was corrupted by a cacophony of figurative and abstract forms, both charming and gruesome.
At over 10 feet high and about 20 feet per side, the installation contained a commotion of arranged mayhem, with a passageway for viewing around the perimeter. The sculptures within the boxes, fashioned from materials including polystyrene, quartz, expanding foam, thread, synthetic hair, mirrors and fluorescent lights, oscillated between themes of decay and fertility, embodied by abbreviated figures, human extremities, animals, ants and fruits. Repetitions of forms created sequences of mutation and movement, such as a succession of evolving eagle heads, each more human-featured than the last, and a series of apelike arms à la Muybridge caught flinging coconuts or cantaloupes at the gallery’s mirror-lined side walls. Actual smashed spots in the mirrors refracted the sculptures, increasing the tumult. Throughout, there seemed to be an anagrammatic play at work.
A once-around the installation revealed several focal points, which came clearly into view when one stood directly in front of them—for example, a faceless woman in a blue- sequined dress, and a male figure with an intact head and a gnawed, flayed body, patches of his pink, exposed torso sprouting maggots of clear quartz crystal. Nearby was a tableau of crudely shaped figures seated at a table and pawing at a pile of the same claylike substance that forms their bodies, seemingly making themselves while simultaneously taking themselves apart—trapped in the Petri-dish ecology underpinning The Flux and the Puddle‘s surreal sprawl.
This piling on of more objects, materials and types of forms was an exciting step forward for Altmejd, moving away from the practiced, sinuous figures of previous works. He seemed to almost be pushing his own system of creation to the brink of collapse in terms of coherence and legibility, challenging the viewer’s willingness and patience to engage with such abundance. It was a timely theme and gesture, this collapse of meaning by way of systemic overproduction, given our own worldly ecological crisis.
By contrast, the second room presented The Eve, a much more subdued work. Again, Altmejd assembled a structure of Plexiglas boxes, but populated it this time with a single figure, seated upside-down and lit fluorescently from below. With six acid-colored kiwi halves suspended in a row at the figure’s shoulder level and a number of split coconuts dangling beneath by way of ornament, this piece was a pared-down rest for the eyes that left one feeling a little deflated après Flux.
The artist has spoken before of his predilection for sculpting heads as a regular formal exercise instead of drawing sketches, and in a back room was a small epoxy clay and plaster head with a literally glassy gaze. Where one expects the top of the skull, a second inverted face—nose, lips, chin and neck stump—stretches upward. The mutation is a fitting microcosm of the artist’s practice.