Art Gallery of Alberta

David Altmejd’s Ode to Creation

Image: David Altmejd, The Vessel (detail), 2011. Plexiglas, chain, plaster, wood, thread, wire, acrylic paint, epoxy resin, epoxy clay, acrylic gel, granular medium, quartz, pyrite, assorted minierals, adhesive, wire, pins, and needles. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa © David Altmejd. Photo © NGC.

Written by Lynda Vang

David Altmejd: The Vessel is one of the two new exhibitions opening up this weekend at your AGA. The Vessel is created by internationally renowned Canadian artist, David Altmejd, and is a part of the NGC@AGA exhibition series running from October 8, 2016-January 29, 2017.

The Vessel is a monumentally scaled, Plexiglas sculpture that exemplifies movement, transformation and the act of artistic creation. Bringing together a variety of materials in symmetry and harmony, The Vessel forms a body that is both frozen in space and alive with the energy of a swan in flight. In anticipation of the new exhibition, we caught up with AGA exhibitions manager, Laura Ritchie, to discuss The Vessel.

What can you tell us about David Altmejd’s The Vessel?

David Altmejd’s sculpture, The Vessel, 2011, is on loan to the AGA from the National Gallery of Canada (NGC). The work is so large it takes up a whole room and is presented as an exhibition unto itself. This exhibition is one in our ongoing NGC@AGA series, and we’re delighted to have the opportunity to install and share this work with Western Canada. The work was created for the artist’s critically acclaimed solo show at the Andrea Rosen Gallery, in New York, in the spring of 2011. It was acquired by the NGC in 2012.

Does The Vessel mark the first time the AGA has exhibited work by David Altmejd?

No, this isn’t the first time we’ve been fortunate enough to have Altmejd’s work here at the AGA. In 2010 his large-scale installation The Holes, 2008, was included in the exhibition Misled by Nature, which was co-organized by the AGA and the National Gallery of Canada, and curated by NGC’s Josee Drouin-Brisebois and Jonathan Shaughnessy and AGA’s Catherine Crowston. Like The Vessel, The Holes is comprised of mirror, crystal, wire and epoxy resin among other materials. A notable similarity between the two works is the inclusion of plaster casts of the artist’s hands. In The Holes, the artist presents decaying, mythological giants in a wild landscape of fake flora. Where The Vessel evokes the typical museological fixtures the plinth and glass (or Plexiglas) vitrine, The Holes presents almost as museological diorama.]

What should the viewer keep in mind when looking at The Vessel?

There is a lot to see within The Vessel, so we encourage viewers to take in the work from a variety of angles. Certainly there are vantage points from which the viewer will find that the work reveals itself spectacularly, bringing some of the artist’s intended images into clear view, but each section of the Plexiglas container holds minute details that shouldn’t be missed. Atlmejd describes works such as The Vessel as his laboratories for experimentation with materials and ideas. Thinking of The Vessel as the result of experimentation, and ultimately as a made object, the view is going to find a lot more amazing moments within the work to investigate.

On view alongside The Vessel is a small exhibition called Collection Connections, which is a sampling of work from the AGA collections. Can you talk more about what’s going on in that show?

Altmejd’s work is rich with imagery, themes, structures, and interesting materials. We felt that one way to celebrate the very act of creation that is central to The Vessel would be to feature the work of other artists who have engaged with or taken up similar themes and materials. At first we thought of artists who had engage with transparent media, such as glass or Plexiglas, and from there found that there were so many connections we could make to works in the AGA collection. Tim Scott’s Plexiglas sculpture, Counterpoint XXI, 1974, leads our visitor into a room that, like The Vessel, contains birds, structures, skeletons and showcases artistic consideration of transformation.