The exhibition features a variety of works of art representing five of Altman’s ongoing series: torch drawings, wire birds, egg editions, vintage chalkboard drawings, blankets, and altered household objects. Through these works, one can see the breadth of Altman’s skill in an impressive array of media. These media allow Altman to continue her lifelong investigation of how to capture, translate, and preserve in stunning detail the natural world in the face of rapid deforestation and habitat destruction. Altman’s innovative use of materials is a common thread throughout her work. Through unconventional media, Altman is able to distill complex conceptual threads into objects that are elegant in their simplicity.
For this exhibition, Altman has created a site-specific installation of wire birds perched in a variety of poses on branches of manzanita wood. A keen observer of natural life, Altman deftly captures the gestures and behaviors of real birds, rendering them remarkably lifelike. Her ability to do this, while simultaneously revealing the objects’ use of materials continues Altman’s career-long exploration of the intersection between presence and absence. This play is further pushed by the gorgeous shadows that the objects cast on the walls behind them. The bird’s literal transparency and the apparent pun of the “perch” evoke a sense of vulnerability.
In similar fashion, Altman’s torch drawings are a display of remarkable technical skill in a series that uses its own materiality as a metaphor. As with the birds, Altman uses minimal information to communicate powerful gesture and even personality. Created by burning saturated paper with a handheld torch, Altman must push the material to the edge of its very existence. The level of technical skill and control necessary to create these objects cannot be overstated. In order to make the darkest of the marks, she must pull back at the moment just before the entire page might incinerate. In order to create the image, she must risk destroying it. The objects themselves are precarious and this suggests something of the precariousness of their subjects. Furthermore, they also resonate on another level, inviting viewers to consider their own responsibility, as Altman seems to consider her own.
Also significant to this exhibition are three kinetic multimedia sculptures that incorporate vintage record players. These thought-provoking objects engage many of the same themes as Altman’s other work; however, with a sense of quirky sentimentality that makes them delightful to experience individually and as a group. Altman’s vintage chalkboards similarly engage the ready-made while also directly challenging the recognizable format with an intricate composition of handmade complexity. This juxtaposition between the commonplace and the precious is made even more interesting by the vulnerability implicit in the choice of materials.
Seen together, the works in this exhibition demonstrate the immense artistic talent of Helen Altman. They showcase her ability in a variety of media and bring forward the themes that have remained the focus of her work throughout her career. Altman’s work communicates the distance between many perceived dichotomies of the natural world: life and death, presence and absence, permanence and ephemerality, strength and vulnerability. She further invites viewers to inquire as to their own role in these relationships.
Altman earned a B.F.A. degree from the University of Alabama in 1981 and an M.A. degree from the same institution in 1986. Altman then entered the graduate program at the University of North Texas in Denton and earned her M.F.A. degree in 1989. Altman's artwork can be viewed in public and private collections around the country, including the Dallas Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; the Kohler Arts Center in Wisconsin, the Art Museum of Southeast Texas in Beaumont, Texas; the Old Jail Art Center in Albany, Texas; and the Grace Museum in Abilene, Texas. The artist is the recipient of several prestigious awards, including the Engelhard Award and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Texas Commission on the Arts. Altman currently lives and works in Fort Worth, Texas.
Talley Dunn Gallery is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and by appointment. For more information about the exhibition, please contact Meredith Leyendecker at the gallery ([email protected] or 214-521-9898) for visuals and a checklist. Concurrently with this exhibition, Joseph Glasco: Paintings will be on view in the Main Gallery. Also concurrent with this exhibition are exhibitions of Altman’s work at the Tyler Museum of Art and the Old Jail Art Center.