Let me open with a bit of a caveat here. I attended this show as a not-quite-impartial observer, having been a fan of Altmejd's work previously. This remains the case. However, despite this admission, it would be inequitable to suggest the scope of my critical eye was tempered by rose-coloured glasses, as I feel that with Altmejd’s work, there's only so far the old adage “if it ain't broke, don't fix it” will stretch before it segues into “flogging a dead horse” territory. While the works on display are fascinating, are they breaking any new ground?

For the uninitiated, Altmejd constructs lavish tableaux, often contained within perspex vitrines to elevate or fetishise its constituent parts, thus placing upon a pedestal (figuratively, and sometimes literally) the everyday objects which constitute a piece. This propensity for collating and reconfiguring items attests to Altmejd’s preoccupations with metamorphosis and change - and he has previously spoken about how his works are never decaying, but crystallising. The change or “becoming” evidenced in his work earned him the sobriquet “Werewolf Guy” due to a long period wherein his use of disembodied werewolf heads acted as a conduit for exploring this process of change. Typically, his work is large scale - often filling whole rooms - and has a darkly seductive quality, referencing cultural phenomena which he considered influential during his formative years: he cites Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal as one such example.

La Gorge, the first of the three vitrine works in this series, contains many elements seen previously in Altmejd's practice: silver chains for example, evoking a skeletal structure and alluding to the works in the next room, or solidified resin which seems to drip from coconut shells positioned at equidistant intervals, as if ushered along a spectral conveyor belt. This piece appears to be an exercise in contradiction. The vitrine, conceptually, speaks of pristine preservation, yet is awkwardly fabricated and bearing the scars of hasty construction. The coconuts, oozing coloured lacquers, are perhaps an attempt to reconcile the natural with the synthetic. Alternatively, it could be argued that Altmejd is exploring a sense of sexuality within arguably prosaic materials. Perspex channels through which resin ‘flows’ are akin to conjugation tubes; a large aperture towards the base of the piece hints of voyeurism; and egg-like globules emerging from a petri dish on the floor might be perceived as denizens of a controlled civilisation.

The second work (La Ventre) is the most successful. Altmejd uses the presentation case as a framework for the construction of a chimeric bird-like beast, hovering transfixed and mostly filling the vitrine. This animalian caprice of fancy rises from the ashes of raw material. In this case, a selection of coloured threads, intricately woven through minuscule apertures in the perspex create an indefinite skeletal structure, with musculature and hollow internal organs demarcated by different shades of yarn. The use of thread recalls the work of Irish artist Mark Garry, whose installations have a similar quality, being physically present yet somehow intangible. Due to the scale of the work, and the contradictory sense of the creature’s being decidedly physical yet undeniably wraithlike, the unease elicited from this twenty-first century Jabberwocky is palpable, and satisfying.

The third piece, l'Oeil, is a study in minimalism, and most surprising considering Altmejd's inclination towards a theatricality which borders on the baroque. Consisting of a single coconut (an idée fixe that unifies the pieces) suspended in the middle of one wall of perspex, shattered on one side, it disgorges more solidified resin into the case, empty save for fragments of the nut's surface. Quite unlike the others in mood, this work speaks of a sense of missed opportunity or unrealised potential, and, unlike Altmejd's previous work, seems to signal an emergent morose introspection unseen in his practice to date. La Ventre may be the exhibition’s pièce de résistance, but l'Oeil is the most important in terms of Altmejd’s conceptual advancement.

While trying to properly articulate my feelings about the show, I remembered a story by Dorothy Parker, in which she tells her undoubtedly rapt audience about Freddie, a howl of an individual “more fun than a circus”. Everyone is instantly enamoured by his humorous anecdotes or slapstick rituals. She confides that, with Freddie, you're always guaranteed a laugh and a joke because his comedic sensibility is so reliable, dependable, immutable. In short - predictable. Thus, in much the same way, I feel that with Altmejd’s show, I'm somewhat compelled to ask, “well, what's new?”

David Altmejd, at Stuart Shave Modern ArtJohn Patrick Egan reviews David Altmejd's latest exhibition at Stuart Shave Modern Art.3