A Montreal werewolf in Calgary

David Altmejd fills the Illingworth Kerr Gallery with ‘symbolic potential’
Denis Farley

Montreal-born artist David Altmejd has had his work shown in impressive locations such as Artists Space and Deitch Projects, he has received glowing reviews in the New York Times and the Village Voice, signed with Andrea Rosen Gallery and represented Canada at the 2007 Venice Biennale of Visual Art. Now, Calgarians will have a chance to see the artist’s sculptures of werewolf parts, artificial birds and jewelry with a self-titled exhibition at the Illingworth Kerr Gallery (IKG), running until November 3.
    Altmejd’s formalist concerns are delicate and abject. Often, his installations consist of multi-platformed stage areas with interiors lined with reflective material, decorated in baroque splendour. These structures, without the added décor, are reminiscent of minimalist sculpture of the late 1960s and early 1970s. His works create sculptural systems loaded with what he calls “symbolic potential” and open-ended narratives. His pieces are dripping with a romantic sensibility that contains medieval overtones, with legends and monsters as his referent. The reification of things past combined with mirrored supports and crystals creates sculptures that are a marriage of the grotesque and the glamorous. The werewolf, a figure of legend and myth, is a genetic aberration and a familiar icon in contemporary art. In popular culture, the image of humans who shape-shift into a wolf-like creature, either by using magic or having been placed under a curse, is usually relegated to B-movies.
    IKG curator Louise Dery first discovered Altmejd’s work at Galerie de l’UQAM in 1997. She appreciated “the Borgesian character of his sculptures, peopled with mutating half-human, half-animal creatures. The impression of improbability it creates is transmuted by a reference to the primal instincts that are unleashed by the body, sexuality and death. The monsters, giants, werewolves and birdmen in (his) work concoct a fantastic zoology where the entire being — body and soul — is ‘animalized.’”
    Werewolves amidst taxidermy birds, various minerals and synthetic tree branches are seen as organic shapes that combine with other elements to create positive energies, rather than shrouded narratives. Altmejd describes his works as living organisms and is primarily interested in how objects interact and create energy. Altmejd’s piece The Index
(made for the Venice Biennale) was imagined by the artist as a shelter where a multitude of birds could nest, feed and reproduce. Referring to the idea of collecting organisms and biodiversity, The Index is an articulated labyrinth with several hideouts and mysterious species. One biomorphic creature recalls the Egyptian god Horus, a man with a falcon head, wearing a suit and toting a briefcase.
    It is guaranteed that whatever Altmejd exhibits at IKG will be compelling for art lovers, particularly his infamous werewolves in a state of decay, with glittering metallic dust painted around the snout. IKG states that the exhibit will be dominated by the image of the werewolf. Viewers, says Dery, will find “something that relates to their own experience and provokes their imagination in Altmejd’s work. There is no limit to the visitor reaction: astonishment, curiosity, a frown, a smile.”

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