Day trips beyond New York City for visual art can feel decadent, especially with all the spectacular shows we don’t have time to see. And although it might be a small hassle to get there, the Brant Foundation’s current solo show of David Altmejd is really worth every minute of the trip to Greenwich, Connecticut. With his hallucinogenic and kaleidoscopic aesthetic, Altmejd also seems to be asking viewers to take a trip.
At the opening, the locals were all chattering about how the mirrors transformed the space. It did not appear like the barn-converted-into-an-art-space they had known before. The mirrors made tight corridors feel vast, they multiplied Altmejd’s sculptures into phantasms of recurring ethereal forms and cast bright shimmers throughout the space. Despite how these reflection tricks might open up accusations of being derivative of — gasp — a Thai restaurant, the mirrors added an extra dash of visual pepper to the works on view.
One of the most mesmerizing installations in the show, “The University 1” (2004), is a lattice of hundreds of small hollow cubes stuck together, covered with reflective mirror surfaces and then echoed by mirrored walls. Sparkles dance on the cubes’ edges while refracted light traces a luminous arabesque design upon the ceiling. It’s as if a Sol Lewitt structure got drunk, screwed a disco ball and kept the love child. Debbie downers who hate anything with a reference to another artist will scoff at this early work by Altmejd, but it departs far enough from LeWitt with its luminousity and energy to justify the appropriation.
But despite his beginnings with minimalist geometry, Altmejd’s more recent sculptures flirt with the figurative. The forms coalesce into recognizable silhouettes while at the same time wobbling on the brink of dissolving into a chaotic jumble of lines, shapes and allusions.
For example, in “L’Air” (2010), a nearly invisible man floats in the air with transparent limbs and perhaps a yellow heart or golden lung. The cracked mirrored walls still manage to clone him until his shape vanishes into an indistinct lemon smudge on the horizon line. It’s a fun game to strain to see how deeply you can gaze into the mirrors and how many mirror images are perceptible.
Altmejd can also produce sculptures that can stand on their own without the dazzling effects of mirrors. The back room of the converted barn displays several full-length sculptures of masculine figures on high columns. “Untitled 2 (Bodybuilders)” (2011) is a palimpsest of plaster hands, fingers and impressions left by hands and fingers that accumulate into the form of a man — who has obviously been touched. On one level, it’s a statement about the sensuality of a sculptor’s process. It’s also a playful reminder of the invisible fingerprints left by artists of a different kind on our bodies.
Vast glass boxes filled with colored string and phantasmagoric creatures recur in the artist’s oeuvre. Two of these boxes, “The Swarm” (2011) and “Untitled” (2009) are on view. Altmejd has a talent for lines that bulldoze visual highways for the eyes to travel down. And it’s entrancing how these long meandering threads grab the gaze, lead them down a route, force a visual choice at a fork in the road and then not much later hit another fork and so on. The eyes get lost tracing and retracing a criss-crossing journey through the glass box — perhaps it is best analogous to getting lost in circles while driving in Los Angeles.
Leading the eye down the thread’s path is the residue of the artist’s process. Speaking with him before “The Swarm” at the opening, he pointed to the “heart” where it all began and then talked about how the lines sprawled out. Often, into formal suburbs he didn’t anticipate.
Altmejd is no one-trick pony. And although all the works reassemble each other on some level, it’s evident that this sculptor is mulling over several ideas at once. In other words, he has ADHD. One of the most heartwarming moments during the opening reception was when art dealer Andrea Rosen led a tour through the show and spoke about Altmejd’s recurring motifs. There were these precious he’s-back-at-that-one-again smiles and remarks.
But despite his versatility and wide arsenal of motifs, what stylistically unites all of Altmejd’s work is an underlying interest in visual highways that grab the gaze and lead the eye. Whether it’s tracing over a glowing arabesque diagram on the ceiling, following a yellow heart’s reflection towards its vanishing point, getting lost in the maze of intersecting fingerprints on a bodybuilder’s body, or following the circuitous routes of colorful threads inside a glass box, this sculptor satiates the eye’s hunger to cruise down its own optical Route 66s into the California sunset. Thankfully, he leaves out the smog.
David Altmejd will be on view at the Brant Foundation Art Study Center (941 North Street, Greenwich, Connecticut) until April 2012.
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