In the main space of Andrea Rosen Gallery, David Altmejd’s gridded plastic network The Flux and the Puddle forms a labyrinthine rectangle—a wrinkle in time. In an homage to science and metaphysics, behind a network of clear vitrines, a series of human-animal hybrids construct themselves out of resin, epoxy, and clay, morphing in and out of candied fruits as harbingers of a kind of alternate evolutionary model, a schizophrenic mutation on a Punnett square.
In the fractured landscape of the labyrinth, Altmejd’s figures exist in a mirage, suspended simultaneously between past, present, and future (1). The vitrine is populated by fantastic archetypes of werewolves, clay golems, and profane angels, but the mythology of the landscape is undercut by uncanny touches such as a partially disembodied, blue-sequined dress framed by sculpted pineapples. As if teleported from the wreckage of a copacabana, the blue dress is a signifier of our world—it appears as if pulled out of close time. In Altmejd’s vitrine, time itself becomes spatial, three dimensional, repetitive, redundant, twisted, and folded back in upon its own permutations. As Altmejd’s sculpted human forms work to create more copies of themselves, and as clear plastic becomes mistaken for mirrors shattered with a terrifying deliberation, the viewer’s sense of any kind of primary referent is irreparably distorted.
I happen to have a personal neurosis about fruit that colored my reading of the exhibition. Fruit is a kind of repulsive substance to me, most likely because I associate it with rapid decay. Fruit has a very limited shelf life, and due to personal-hygiene obsessions, I am often paranoid that it is already spoiled before I even put it in my mouth. I think the kind of “juice” of Altmejd’s fruit is wrapped up in this sense of hyper-tactility and aliveness that I often feel when I consider fruit. In the absurd web of my unconscious, personal anxieties about fruit are connected to anxieties about bugs—and fittingly enough, many of Altmejd’s fake melons, seemingly left out to spoil behind the gaping vitrines, are crawling with cartoon-like ants. Decay is cartoonishly removed from the rancid, revulsive process of decay itself. Decay is, as it were, preserved, and Altmejd’s resin starts to appear more like formaldehyde.
The vitrine is a fraught cultural object intertwined with the legacies of science and the freak show. Vitrines have been historically used to showcase biological samples both for research and for the practice of exploiting medical oddities for the purpose of entertainment. Altmejd’s figures, who often possess fully formed human-like hands attached to amorphous bodies of clay, are in the process of making themselves. As if at work in some kind of factory, two dark gray figures bend over a third dark body laid upon a clear work table and play with rivers of semen: a creation myth. Are they at work creating new bodies? Conducting genetic experiments? Like a scenario straight out of The X-Files, some unknown and not-quite-inhuman logic motivates the factory’s production. Altmejd’s factory workers are caught between a specimen’s jar, a freak’s cage, and a ringleader’s circle, the vitrine a house for hackneyed creators arrested in the process of fabricating their own world.
These humanoid figures are sometimes so realistic as to convincingly imitate life, and sometimes appear as Frankensteined cartoons with melting faces and gaping, crystallized head wounds. In this alternate myth of evolution, the end point of growth seems to lie where Altmejd’s glass-eyed heads morph into organic crystal formations in places where they have been hacked open and caved in. As his figures decay, they glitter into magic matter. New Age crystals signify transcendence, metaphysics, but also an organic connection to deep earth. Do these figures evolve toward a hyper-celestial realm, or further downward into the earth’s core? Without a published press release, and with the exhibition’s title scrawled childishly on the wall by the artist with a ballpoint pen, we are left on our own to embellish Altmejd’s cryptic, fractured fantasy. Between illusions and allusions we cannot be certain. We can only consume in awe, awash in the anxiety brought on by Altmejd’s simulacra of ripeness.
Juices will be on view at Andrea Rosen through March 8th.
(1) As Altmejd explains, for example: “The ‘bodybuilder’ is a body that shapes itself by moving matter around with its own hands. He can grab material from his thigh and drag it up to his head to make it bigger. If he displaces a lot of matter upward, and makes it accumulate behind his shoulders, he will create wings and become a ‘watcher’ (angel). The ‘werewolf’ is a body, inside of which I can explore and create tensions. I find that kind of body/space very energetic. The ‘giant’ is a figure that becomes a space (architecture, landscape).”