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

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the Art21
Production still from the Art21 "Extended Play" film, "David Altmejd: Heads." © Art21, Inc. 2013.

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 Artnet 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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