‘They’ve Always Been Inside My Practice’: Watch Artist David Altmejd Build Disembodied Heads From Leftover Materials

The Canadian-born sculptor David Altmejd is a master of world-building. His large-scale installations and intimately scaled sculptures are like Russian nesting dolls of stories and materials, with layers upon layers of ornamentation that each have distinct meaning.

In an exclusive interview with Art21 filmed in 2013, the artist described his obsession with crafting heads out of leftover materials from his larger works.

They’ve always been inside my practice. They’ve always been inside my landscape,” Altmejd told Art21. Using materials such as quartz, mirrors, foam, clay, leather, wood, hair, and steel, the heads he creates are microcosms of his larger works—”drawings,” as he describes them, that counterbalance the massive sculptures alongside them. 

At David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles, a show of new sculptures by Altmejd titled “The Enlightenment of the Witch” explores and how spirituality is expressed in material form. In the works on view, disembodied heads are set atop plinths throughout the gallery, becoming more fractured as the show progresses.

Many of the works have piercing eyes that uncannily stare out from lumpy clay faces, as if they’re possessed.

“I love those ideas of the inside, the outside, the infinite, the infinitely large, the infinitely small, the mind—everything is in that head,” he said

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s Extended Play series, below. “David Altmejd: The Enlightenment of the Witch” it on view at David Kordansky Gallery through July 2, 2021. 

 This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Midnight Publishing Group News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org

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Art Observers Scratch Their Heads as the Uffizi’s First Expansion Into Contemporary Art Is a Mark Wahlberg-Themed Piece of Street Art

In a puzzling move, Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, renowned for its unparalleled collection of Italian Renaissance masterpieces, has accepted the donation of a piece by contemporary British street artist Endless.

The artist, who does not appear to have ever had a museum exhibition, is a strange fit for a collection best known for such art historical luminaries as Sandro Botticelli, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci. Nevertheless, Uffizi director Eike Schmidt summoned a great deal of enthusiasm for the piece at an event unveiling the unlikely acquisition.

Praising the work as “an original fusion between punk and pop” that brings self portraiture into the realm of Conceptual art, Schmidt claimed that branching out to the world of street art was in the tradition of the Medici who first built the museum’s collection. “The Medici, always at the cutting edge, would be happy to see Endless’s work enter the collection,” he claimed in a statement.

The museum is billing the acquisition as its first work of street art, but it’s clearly a work on canvas, created in a studio environment—not on the city streets. The mixed-media piece features two vertically stacked printings of a Noel Shelley photograph of Endless posed between British artist duo Gilbert and George, surrounded by their names in graffiti lettering.

British street artist Endless has donated this work featuring Gilbert and George and his Crotch Grab artwork appropriating Mark Wahlberg's Calvin Klein ad to the Uffizi in Florence. Photo courtesy of Uffizi Galleries

British street artist Endless has donated this work featuring Gilbert and George and his Crotch Grab artwork appropriating Mark Wahlberg’s Calvin Klein ad to the Uffizi in Florence. Photo courtesy of Uffizi Galleries.

In a nod to the tradition of the anonymous street artist, Endless’s face is partially hidden behind an open magazine featuring Crotch Grab, a recurring image in the artist’s work. Based on a famous Calvin Klein underwear ad featuring actor Mark Wahlberg, Crotch Grab originally appeared on the streets of London and was later appropriated by Gilbert and George.

“Endless elaborates on his symbolic explorations, moving between the brush and spray paint, luxury and pop, and creating a mirror of two different perfections, one wise and tragic, lived on the cutting edge of heresy and madness/folly, the other scientific, experimental, expanded upon analytically,” art critic Pasquale Lettieri pronounced at the work’s unveiling.

High praise, if a bit overwrought. But although the work was allegedly created specifically for the Uffizi, nothing about the subject matter nor the techniques involved in its making would seem to make any reference to the storied Florentine institution that would explain its sudden addition to the collection.

“The gallery director, Eike Schmidt, wanted to collect contemporary works and open a new portrait section to the Uffizi Gallery,” Endless told Midnight Publishing Group News in an email, noting that the gift had been in the works for several years. “He had requested my work to be in this collection.”

British street artist Endless with the work he gifted to the Uffizi in Florence. Photo courtesy of Uffizi Galleries.

British street artist Endless with the work he gifted to the Uffizi in Florence. Photo courtesy of Uffizi Galleries.

The Uffizi’s collection stops in the 1930s with Modern art—a portion of the collection relegated to upstairs galleries in the museum’s Pitti Palace location on the other side of the river. Branching out to more contemporary work isn’t necessarily a bad thing, even if an artist like Endless seems like a very strange place to start.

“I was surprised as the collection is most famous for its Renaissance works,” Endless admitted. “I am very honored to have my work feature amongst such a significant collection.”

Endless’s website claims that “the public buzz around his work has snowballed, to a point where now iconic brands, celebrities and the art world all know his name.” But his CV appears to be almost entirely London gallery shows. HIs other big project right now is painting a mural at an Italian ski resort for the 2021 Alpine Ski World Championships.

The Uffizi previously waded into the waters of contemporary art with “Flora Commedia,” a 2018 Cai Guo-Qiang exhibition, that was part of a series of shows by the Chinese artist responding to the collections of major international institutions.

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