David Altmejd, “Untitled” (2009) (Image © David Altmejd Courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery, NY, Photo by Jason Mandella) (click to enlarge)

Pimply teenage boys have cared for and tended pterodactyls for so long. Up in the attic, these flying dinosaurs soar on their posters and swoop into action scenes of their beloved b movies. But, if I may be so poetic, the stench of unwashed clothes appears to be forcing the beasts out of their nests.

A detail of Altmejd’s “Untitled” (2009) (click to enlarge)

Some artists have discovered that this flying reptile have some real cross-over potential. At first, this sounds like an awfully kitschy idea, but when this airborne creature is refracted, distilled, and boiled down into a raw winged shape, it really sings rather than squawks.

Altmejd Takes Flight

David Altmejd’s recent pterodactylian sculpture in a glass case at PS1 was so entrancing. It had so many small vivid details to take in and relish, including hundreds of threads of shimmering gold, stark white, and stridently bright colors were fastidiously interwoven to form the creature. An elaborate system of transparent plastic trusses suspends the threads in mid-air and defies gravity to articulate a truly uncanny anatomy.

The room at PS1 was dim with the case brightly illuminated, pumping up the sculpture’s colors with Caravaggesque intensity. The work took that familiar experience of gazing at a skeleton in a glass case in a whole new direction. And it didn’t curdle into something that felt campy or like it was trying too hard to be scientifically precise, which is usually how appropriations can disappoint.

As a disclaimer, the work is untitled. Despite its chimerical ambiguity, it displays a corporal center, a head, legs, and wings that stretch out. It is fair to say that the work hits the pterodactyl’s semiotic dartboard — even if it’s not a bull’s-eye.

Stephen Holding, “Millennium Theory” (2007) (image courtesy the artist) (click to enlarge)

Holding Abstractions

Stephen Holding paints the abstracted wings and tail of the pterodactyl in his 2007 multimedia piece “Millennium Theory,” recently on view at Art Connects New York gallery in SoHo. The abstract shape had this sense of motion like a twirling boomerang. The soaring wing chevron formation grabs the eye and leads it across the picture plane in a “U” trajectory. The mix of highly saturated colors was perfectly complimented by the blank void that surrounded them. Other works by Holding lacked this calmer area, which helps balance out his impulse towards ambitious and dense patterns. Horror vacui can be overwhelming in a bad way — like a guy who pairs a polka dot tie with a plaid shirt and pinstripe paints.

Strong compositions that cascade colors without feeling messy, pack it all into an interesting shape, and still manage to strike a graceful balance are hard to get right. “Millennium Theory” reveals the potential of a young artist who is still learning how to do what he does best without getting carried away.

Taking risks with unusual shapes can reap some handsome rewards. It was a formidable challenge to pull off the pterodactyl without it turning kitschy or weird. But when artists handle references right, like Altmejd and Holding do, you respect them more for playing with fire and not getting burned. As Scottish writer Thomas Caryle once succinctly wrote: “No pressure, no diamonds.”

Stephen Holding’s “Millennium Theory,” (2007) was part of the Feed the Kitty show at the Spattered Columns Art Space in Soho (March 10, 2010 – April 7, 2010), organized by Art Connects New York. David Altmejd’s Untitled Sculpture (2009) was part of Between Spaces at PS1 (October 25, 2009 – April 12, 2010) curated by Tim Gossens and Kate McNamara.

Daniel Larkin

A man once knocked Daniel Larkin off his bar stool and flung mean words. He got up, smiled, and laughed as the bouncer showed him out. He doesn't give anyone the power to rain on his parade. It's more...