For those accustomed to experiencing the works of David Altmejd in three dimensions and at a large scale, in immersive installations in which glass and mirrors compound mysteries of facture and content, this set of mixed-medium prints will come as a surprise. While they distill the artist’s penchant for visual sleight of hand and, like the sculptures, shape an experience of mutable identity, in contrast to the larger work they are wonderfully intimate and humorous. In 2012, the year he began thinking about Ringers, Altmejd was creating a series of somewhat gory-looking epoxy heads displayed upside down. That preoccupation informed his decision in this, his first major print project, to create a set of topsy-turvy portraits. After shooting photos of his workshop assistants, as well as students and staff at the LeRoy Neiman Center, Altmejd tweaked the portraits in Photoshop, then printed them in inkjet. Flipped upside down, they were overprinted in intaglio—mainly line etching, with occasional aquatint and spit-bite—and adhered to a sturdy foamcore backing. Altmejd then cut holes with a laser to create shallow glitter-filled cavities in the board, and attached small chains, pearls and other materials as adornments to transform his sitters,.
In keeping with one meaning of the title, we are here dealing with fraudulent identity. Each of the sitters is identified in the lower left margin by initials, but in the image, he or she is rendered nearly unrecognizable. Males become females and females males; foreheads have grown lips and hair has become beards. False noses are added and all manner of garb, from gowns to dress shirts and a burka. Pearls and glitter adorn these new beings, droll, timid and sinister by turn. “D.B.” appears twice—this is master printer Doug Bennett, and the doubling is perhaps an homage to his printerly ingenuity. In one instance he appears as a head in a little vitrine, as if on display in a museum; in another he is given a great hairy chest. “K.O.,” his expression astonished, is a head spinning through air, altered by the addition of some of the artist’s own hair. “M.T.” is a shy lady with pinprick nostrils and a set of dignifying pearls; “A.W.” has become a tattooed leather dude. The portrayals have little or nothing to do with the actual people—Altmejd is revealing nothing except, perhaps, the reality that we all carry within us for more than one identity.
Sometimes, in the background, one can see the Neiman workshop, stocked with shelves of ink and other supplies—an indication that we are also viewing a community of production. Ringers was complex and time-consuming, as Neiman projects often are. Though playfully intent on asserting artistic liberties, Altmejd here pays tribute to those who facilitated his creation.