November/December 2011

David Altmejd

[Artist]

“I want everything in my work to generate. I want everything in my work to be generated inside the work.”
Conceptual elements of retail-store counters used in Altmejd’s work:
Desire
Energy
The display of the sacred

"Why not fashion?” David Altmejd asks me.

Why not, indeed? I’m a fan of fashion; he’s a fan of fashion. So when I went to interview him about the spectacular sculptures he creates, we decided that fashion would offer a fine entrée to a conversation. Fashion feeds his work. Clothing, jewelry, and wigs pop up in his sculptures. Birdmen sport natty suits. Rhinestone flowers sprout from the corpses of werewolves. Gold chains swarm like insects through mirrored counters and cabinets. The fashion world furnishes him with many of his materials; he transforms them into the flora and fauna of a world that’s entirely his own design.

It’s small surprise that fashion designers—Marc Jacobs and Raf Simons, to name two—admire his work. But they’re not alone: his art is both original and engaging, critically acclaimed and crowd pleasing. At thirty-seven, he is an artist of international stature, his work collected by the Whitney Museum, the Guggenheim, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the National Gallery of Canada, among others.

Altmejd was born and bred in Montreal. He started his studies at the Université du Québec à Montréal, then completed them at Columbia. Though he has been in New York since graduating, he still speaks with a francophone accent. He apologizes for his English, but he shouldn’t. He speaks well. Better still, his ideas are as idiosyncratic as his sculptures.

I met him almost a decade ago. If fashion is the framework for our interview, so, too, has it been a framework for our friendship. We talk about style. We go shopping together. He has much nicer clothes than I do. In my novel The Show That Smells, fashion icons Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli battle for the soul of a country singer. Altmejd created the novel’s cover art, a crystal-encrusted werewolf head with tufts of shocking-colored hair. For those who know fashion, the cover makes it clear: Schiaparelli wins.

Derek McCormack

*

THE BELIEVER: Can jewelry be art?

DAVID ALTMEJD: Yes, I think so. It’s more likely to be art than fashion is. I can see a jeweler completely absorbed in his work and forgetting about what the purpose of it will be. It seems like a fashion designer would always be thinking of what the final result will be, which is people wearing his clothes.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Derek McCormack is the author of several novels, including The Show That Smells (Little House on the Bowery/Akashic) and The Haunted Hillbilly (Soft Skull Press). He lives in Toronto.

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