David Altmejd’s The Eye standing tall and towering in front of The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has been well received by most critics in the city, and I being a fan of the ghoulish macabre couldn’t help liking it. I saw it being installed and watched it being unveiled, breathing a sigh of relief on discovering something other than a pair of hearts or a massive bronze cow on its hind legs.
The Museum took a chance with a young artist and they deserve all the praise they get; and they haven’t over reached. The sculpture described Modern by the Museum is also old fashioned with a hint of classical to it, and by classical I mean following the academics.
Resembling a melting, decaying, rotting David being consumed by a multitude of hands, it also has a Surrealist aura to it, albeit Dali’s version of Surrealism inspired by more of a nightmare than a dream. There are religious elements to the piece and Altmejd doesn’t deny it, comparing it to the Eye of God glass pyramid residing on top of The Louvre, despised by so many Parisians as an eyesore.
Apart from Michelangelo’s David reference, the angelic wings give it that heavenly perception, although more like a fallen angle here on earth. Never the less, the sacred aspect of the work is fully on display and references to afterlife is rife within the piece, which at the same time confirms and denies all the academic notions of beauty.
Religion boasts the monopoly on beauty and the art scene has been moving away from it ever since Modernism by trying to destroy it through what has been labelled as ugly but true. The word “beautiful” sends shivers down spines of many artists, and they fear it, because consequently their work would be marginalized and deemed unimportantly banal.
Beauty has been associated with the divinely encompassing, chocolate boxy designs which are there to calm prosaically rather than inspire intellectually; and to combat this artists took refuge in abstraction and the macabre. However, as years have passed, the same word expressed in hushed tones is now being said about modern art.
We are no longer shocked by them, now we embrace them as striking and full of life. Heavenly bodies and immortal divinities are no longer the only accepted beautiful creatures we can depict. Even fallen, disfigured, decomposing angles burning in hell are now found beguiling by the public.
So the jig is up, the fat lady has sung, we are now finally moving toward a secular society where beauty can be found everywhere and not in churches and holy buildings, right? I’m afraid not, well not yet.
One only has to look at the ever growing Ultra Realism academic movement to see reverts back to mixture of Classicism and contemporary life. Classicism which inspired Renaissance and Baroque periods, so adored by the academics, was a Greco-Roman process of depicting Gods and Mythology and the return to it means a return to those ideologies.
You could simply attribute this phenomenon to the financial difficulties we are experiencing; after all, throughout history, in times of economic hardship artists have always returned to Classicism. Even Picasso, señor Modernism had a period of neoclassic paintings after the end of the First World War amidst the French financial crisis.
But I fear our problem has deeper roots. People are more and more taking sanctuary in religion in backlash to widespread of extremism and political instability in other countries. We have observed the recently deceased devoutly religious artist Thomas Kinkade become the most famous American painter of our time, selling work all over the world, even shamefully to this once naïve art enthusiast.
It seems you cannot become a President or a Prime Minister if you reject the Almighty, and now artists are careful to hit all bases by giving their work a dash of the heavenly, because Museums are set to attract visitors, and so now they have to be conservative.
The visually beautiful is becoming the goal for most people prompted by fashion and movies, and now divinely beautiful is once again in the cards for art. However, for how long I won’t venture a guess, but the sooner gone the better.
Looking at the David Altmejd’s sculpture I cannot help but to notice the golden bronze purposely chosen by the artist, and I think here stands a very expensive guarding angel for creativity’s modern church: The Museum of Fine Arts.