Glittery, gutsy and sometimes grotesque, "Juices," David Altmejd's exhibition of new works on view at New York's Andrea Rosen (through Mar. 8), appears as a dazzling exploration of the process of metamorphosis. The Canadian-born, New York-based artist filled the largest gallery with The Flux and the Puddle (2014), a massive sculpture consisting of a clear Plexiglas box, leaving barely enough room for visitors to circumnavigate its perimeter. The work's interior space and its external walls are inset with hundreds of elements that seem at a distance to be floating in midair. The objects range from grapes cast in resin and real coconuts to life-size resin human figures with some appendages blasted away, plus tiny models of realistic-looking ants. In one area, near the top corner of the sculpture, several pairs of hairy primate arms appear to grow from a large, sparkling geode. Their hands grasp at green grapes embedded in the Plexiglas.
Occupying a second, smaller gallery, The Eve (2014), also featuring a large, clear Plexiglas box, is a relatively spare sculpture. Hanging upside down from the top of the box, a life-size seated figure in resin is the container's only occupant. Attached to Plexiglas supports, a row of colorfully painted kiwi slices and several split coconuts appear suspended within the space. Mounted on a sculpture stand and dramatically spot-lit in a small, darkened rear gallery, one of Altmejd's trademark "heads," 2014, made of polystyrene, plaster and clay, rounds out the show.
The artist recently invited a group of journalists to the gallery to preview the new work and offer a few insights into his approach and process.
"I think of the big Plexiglas box as a kind of stage or a laboratory space. The work is operatic," Altmejd explained. "It's basically about the making of sculpture. Everything you see was made from inside the box. Ideas germinated from the inside. I let the work evolve and grow as much as possible. There's very little that's premeditated; it's not pre-designed.
Large holes in the Plexiglas, plus a number of shattered mirrors arranged inside the box surrounding The Flux and the Puddle, provide a variety of viewpoints into the sculpture as well as some surprising and disconcerting optical illusions. The work appears like a vast science project or a natural history museum display gone spectacularly awry.
"Holes in the Plexiglas are like periscopes, offering different perspectives on the piece," Altmejd states. "I like to create tension through the materials. I use Plexiglas because it's physical; it's also invisible, and it's practical, as well. I often use mirrors. Mirrors are nothing in and of themselves. They only reflect things. They don't exist visually until they are smashed. When you break a mirror it assumes a kind of ultra-physicality."
Altmejd's hallucinatory images often beg for a narrative, and the sculptures' abject elements sometimes imply a dystopian worldview. But Altmejd disagrees. He thinks of his work instead as simply strange and rather dreamlike, with an aim toward poetry not provocation-to surprise rather than shock.
"I don't think of the imagery as abject. Things may appear as if rotting, but decay is the basis of growth. In the end, it's a huge ecosystem. Everything is connected."