London – David Altmejd at White Cube Through January 21st, 2023

December 28th, 2022

David Altmejd, The Vector, (2022), via White Cube
David Altmejd, The Vector (2022), via White Cube

This winter in London, artist David Altmejd has opened a new show at White Cube, continued his strange fusions of the human form, its constituent parts, and inflections of foreign material to create otherworldly new images. Drawing on classical mythologies of the trickster and the hare as a classical symbol of that mythological archetype, the artist blends languages and images through the frame of Carl Jung to create a surreal interior landscape. 

David Altmejd, 9³, (2022), via White Cube
David Altmejd,  (2022), via White Cube

At the center of the show is a striking image: a human figure with the ears of a hare, seated in yogic pose. Its giant ears, stretching almost to the ceiling, seem to probe the limits of the room, while in front of it is a burrow from which the figure appears to have excavated the very matter from which it is made. The contrast of these feet of clay and ears spread like dragonfly wings suggest that a transformation is occurring, from the material to the ethereal. Drawing on Jung’s reading of classical modes of reasoning and understanding, this image is brought to the foreground as a unifying image and concept. Altmejd alludes to a range of mythologies here, from the Yoruban image of the trickster as a figure capable of moving between heaven and earth to Hermes, the trickster and thief who serves as the messenger of the gods. Much in the same way that Altmejd’s works mine the middle space between humanity and the other, his subject matter here transposes the human form into mysterious new planes of existence.

David Altmejd, Dusk, (2022), via White Cube
David Altmejd, Dusk (2022), via White Cube

Rowed plinths line the lower gallery, mimicking a classical sculpture court and displaying a fantastical array of bust and heads. Sometimes fragmentary and possibly time-worn, they suggest archaeological finds, parts of animal-headed deities, but might also be extra-terrestrial specimens or the result of genetic experiments. A series of subtle interventions throughout the space suggests networks of unseen activity: smeared toothpaste, pencil notations and entry points to a presumed warren. His busts and figures twist the human into the hare, each with a disturbing mode of execution that mines the familiar with the foreign.

David Altmejd, Stargazing, (2022), via White Cube
David Altmejd, Stargazing (2022), via White Cube

Here, the Trickster’s shapeshifting powers are truly unleashed, and we meet the Hare in many forms, from cartoon-like to disconcertingly human. His signature ears, majestically erect, comically jaunty or limp with despair, are semaphore flags signalling emotion: they are reduced to vestigial stumps, exaggerated into sails, and in one case formed from the split carcase of a sperm whale. Caught mid-metamorphosis, an elegant hare grows lizard scales, ears transform to leathery batwings and a belly swells with the sleek black and white curves of a killer whale. The most human of the company are given archetypal designations: The Magician, The Other, Young Man, The Mother. Acting as his own analyst, the artist identifies this crowd of characters as manifestations of different aspects of his personality, allowing us to perceive the exhibition as multi-faceted psychic self-portrait.

The show closes January 21st.

– D. Creahan

Read more:
David Altmejd at White Cube [Exhibition Site]