David Altmejd: Artist, Fetishist, and Avid Bird Watcher (on Instagram)
The Flux and The Puddle David Altmejd 2014 Plexiglas, quartz, polystyrene, expandable foam, epoxy clay, epoxy gel, resin, synthetic hair, clothing, leather shoes, thread, mirror, plaster, acrylic paint, latex paint, metal wire, glass eyes, sequin, ceramic, synthetic flowers, synthetic branches, glue, gold, feathers, steel, coconuts, aqua resin, burlap, lighting system including fluorescent lights, Sharpie ink, wood 129 x 252 x 281 inches (327.7 x 640.1 x 713.7 cm) ARG# AD2014-001 Photograph by Lance Brewer
An interview with the artist David Altmejd, whose retrospective show “FLUX” opens at the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montreal on Saturday. Plus, David Altmejd’s Montreal City Guide, exclusively for BlackBook.
David Altmejd has been making overwhelming, room-consuming, energetically buzzing sculptures for 15 years. His first retrospective of work has three legs, the first two already settled up in Paris and Luxembourg. Next, the show heads to Montreal, where Altmejd was born and raised. The artist speaks with BlackBook about his fetishes, greatest influences (including parrots and Louise Bourgeois), who to follow on Instagram and the life of his sculptures.
If you live in Montreal or are headed there to see the retrospective, make sure to check out David Altmejd‘s recommendations below for where to eat, relax, and play in his home city — including the place to make like Magic Mike and see Montreal’s best male strippers.
You’re in the midst of your first retrospective.
This is third retrospective — it’s been travelling through different cities. It started in France, then was shown in Luxembourg, and Montreal is the final installment of it. I just feel that the end of the series of retrospectives, which happens to be in my hometown, is really meaningful. All my family and friends from my hometown from before I even decided to become an artist are going to see what I’ve been up to for the last 15 years. In that sense, it’s extremely meaningful. The Montreal location also offers me a perspective to look at myself from a distance in a certain way. I am actually able to see myself when I started — when I decided to become a sculptor, it all started here. So it’s really interesting in that way.
I think that the museum, Musee d’Art Moderne, had shown interest and were actually looking for partners for a travelling show, and I immediately thought of Montreal and contacted the museum and they thought it was a great idea. It was purposeful [to come home].
What is the primary message you’re sending in this collection of works?
With this show, I’m trying to convey the diversity of approaching sculpture that I’ve been exploring inside my work for many years. I’m trying to show the diversity of types of practices and material and color and relationship to space. But throughout the show in every piece, what’s really important for me to really make clear is the fact that I really consider every sculpture I make to be some sort of energy generator. It’s really important for me to showcase the work in a way that people will really see that is a series of dynamic objects that feel alive — also that each sculpture feels that way and that the show as a whole feels that way. Within each object there’s sort of movement, energy and liveliness but that the whole show has the same sort of movement.
The first time I saw your work was at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver in 2007. I felt it — the energy you talk about — in the room. I walked in and was completely struck by the mixture of the natural fibers, the objects in decay, and also the modern feeling manmade materials. It felt very representative of our world. I can still recall the energy.
Thank you, that’s so great.
Do you think about the world and how we live? What strikes you or influences you when you’re working and thinking about the energy that you’re harnessing in your sculpture?
I think what I try to do is really focus. When I start to make sculpture, what I realize is really amazing about sculpture, is that it exists in real space. It exists in the same space as the viewer; it breathes the same air. It has this potential that it could exist the same way the body of a person does in the world. I’m aware of that potential and I always try to give that power to the object, to make it feel like it exists in the world, in the same world as you. I try to do everything I can to give that power to the object — the power of existing right now. It seems obvious but I think that’s what really defines my work.
Detail of: The Flux and The Puddle David Altmejd2014 Plexiglas, quartz, polystyrene, expandable foam, epoxy clay, epoxy gel, resin, synthetic hair, clothing, leather shoes, thread, mirror, plaster, acrylic paint, latex paint, metal wire, glass eyes, sequin, ceramic, synthetic flowers, synthetic branches, glue, gold, feathers, steel, coconuts, aqua resin, burlap, lighting system including fluorescent lights, Sharpie ink, wood 129 x 252 x 281 inches (327.7 x 640.1 x 713.7 cm) ARG# AD2014-001 Photograph by James Ewing
What does the word “flux” mean in relation to the show?
“The Flux and the Puddle” is the title of a piece and it turns out to be the biggest piece of the show. It’s the largest, most ambitious, most elaborate. When I made that piece — I made it in 2014 — my idea was to build a large plexiglass structure and just incorporate everything that I have ever done as a sculptor: use every material I’ve used, use the theme, movement, material contrast. It became a survey piece of my practice as a sculptor. It becomes a continuum inside the museum. It is the most important piece of the show. The word “flux” comes from that piece, but it’s also an idea that is always present in my work, this idea of connection, of liquid travelling, a flow of energy, a cycle. You can see it in each of my sculptures. Also I want the whole show to show acceptance, to become a sort of system of objects. I want people to be able to feel the flow, or the flux, in going through everything in the show.
Were there new pieces made for the show?
Yes, for every venue, I added pieces. It’s really important for me to try out new things and have the feeling that the show is super fresh and contains things that were just finished an hour before the opening, and to give it a sort of sense of emergence. I like that.
I’m making a piece right now for the Montreal show. The opening of the show is going to be in a couple of weeks and I’m actually making a piece here. I don’t know what it’s going to be called but it’s a large platform covered in smashed mirror and a series of evolving elements inside it. I don’t know how it’s going to evolve in the next two weeks but that’s what I’m doing.
This might be kind of off-topic, but because your sculptures have their own energy and take up space and have a world of their own inside them, what do you think of ISIS going into these historically rich sites in Syria and destroying them? I mean this metaphorically but can any of that energy be recovered?
Do you mean, how can we make up for the loss that is happening? I’m surprised bythe fact that I’m so touched by what’s happening. When you think about it, they’re just objects. My reaction instinctively is a reaction of disgust. I question myself for feeling that way because they are just objects. Of course they have this rich history but compared to the life of a person, it should not be considered that important. I’m just questioning my own reaction. I’m sorry I’m not really answering the question.
I’m profoundly hopeful and I don’t really look so much at the past. I really fetishize the near future. I really fetishize the present and future and mostly the present. For me, the most precious things are the things that are living right now, things that are being made now. What I focus on is the movement, the transformation. It’s not necessarily periods or objects of a certain time. I’m much more fascinated with artists are making right now and the way they’re making new things and the way culture is transforming. That’s what I’m obsessed with.
Untitled (Dark) David Altmejd 2001 Plaster, acrylic paint, synthetic hair, resin, glitter 8 x 14 x 8 inches (20.3 x 35.6 x 20.3 cm) ARG# AD2001-004 Photograph by Jessica Eckert
Who are some of the artists you’re looking at right now for inspiration? Who influences you?
It’s changing a lot because my way of looking at art is completely transforming because I started using Instagram. I’m completely new to all the social media. I didn’t use the Internet that much before. Now my way of looking at art is through Internet. I see so many images, so much art, every day, every hour of the day. Culture feels a little like a mush. Compared to a few years ago where it was very clear what I liked. Galleries and museums now are 95% of the time a big mash-up of things. Before, it was clear that I had a few favorite artists that I was influenced by, but not anymore.
What are your favorite Instagram accounts?
There’s a specific type of humor. I get a lot of memes; I don’t know if they count as memes. What I experience through social media is more of a sensibility than objects with clear artistic statements or propositions. Like humor or a certain type of visual sensibility.
I have to look at these accounts and then I’ll send them to you. I don’t know them by heart. Maybe I can look at my phone right now.
Okay, there is one called @davidhenrynobodyjr. Another, @contemporaryary. You’ll see, it’s a specific type of humor. I don’t know if I’m influenced by that.
Images courtesy of @davidhenrynobodyjr and @contemporaryary
We must be influenced by everything we see on some level and in some way. And with the onslaught of images…
Probably, probably. My work is anyway open enough that I can include a bunch of different things that don’t necessarily make sense together. I really love birds.
Yea, so I follow a few of them — some parrot owners have Instagram accounts for their parrots. Is that interesting?
It’s @bibi_the_galah_parrot. Another bird I follow is @thekeetlife. Do you want more?
Yes, give me one more non-bird.
Okay, it’s @ anti_cgi. That’s like mostly stills from horror movies.
Image courtesy of @anti_cgi
Detail of: Man 2 David Altmejd2014 fiberglass, epoxy clay, wood, feathers, synthetic hair, quartz, taxidermy lovebird, taxidermy par- akeet, pants, jacket, cotton shirt, tie, leather shoes, resin, metal wire, acrylic paint, latex paint, glass eyes, plastic bag, coconuts 77 1/2 x 24 x 26 inches (196.9 x 61 x 66 cm) Plinth: 8 x 30 x 30 inches (20.3 x 76.2 x 76.2 cm) ARG# AD2014-026 Photograph by Lance Brewer
Before the Internet got to you, who were some of your greatest influences?
When I started art school, I was really into American artists like Cindy Sherman, Paul McCarthy, Tony Oursler, filmmakers like David Lynch and David Cronenberg. At the beginning, I was trying to define an attitude for myself and I thought that I was really into their attitudes – kind of weird, humorous or dramatic, sort of an uncomfortable space between the humorous and the dramatic. I was fascinated with that. After then when I started making sculpture, I was really into Louise Bourgeois. She’s the only one who made me understand the fundamental effects.
How do you think about your own work differently now, with the Internet and Instagram playing a bigger role?
It goes back to what I was talking about how in the past few years, my experience of art has completely changed because 95% of art can be seen through images online. It’s changing and I’m not against it. It just feels like it’s much more about a sensibility or energy. You know artists like Ryan Trecartin, what I think defines his work for me the most is a new speed. It’s such a right now kind of speed. I find it completely fascinating and exciting.
How do you relate that to your own work which seems really involved and not speedy, that’s something that’s best experienced in person?
I’m planning to start exploring these spaces more and more. I’d love to have a YouTube channel and start experimenting. Because these platforms are spaces. While virtual, the experience people have on them is real. I’m definitely going to explore that. We’ll see what happens. I’m sure I can find a comfortable place on these spaces. I’m sort of like a fetishist. I think it’s kind of exciting to explore new things as well.
You have to let us know when you create a YouTube channel.
[Laughs] Okay. I don’t know what it’s going to be but…
See FLUX, on view at Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montreal from June 20 through September 13, 2015.
David Altmejd’s Montreal Gity Guide
Canada’s largest church, St. Joseph Oratory, 3800 Chemin Queen Mary, Montréal, QC H3V 1H6
Chinese food from La Maison KamFung, 1111 Rue Saint-Urbain M05, Montréal, QC H2Z 1Y6
Restaurant Le Filet, 219, ave. Mont-Royal Ouest, Montreal, QC, H2X 2T2
Hand-rolled bagels from St-Viateur Bagel, 263 Rue Saint Viateur O, Montréal, QC H2V 1Y1
The best place to walk around in Montreal: Summit Park area in Westmount
Campus Bar (for male strippers), 1111 Rue Sainte-Catherine E, Montréal, QC H2L 2G2
Cafe Olimpico for Italian, 124 St-Viateur Ouest, Montreal, Quebec, QC H2T 2L1