Mathis Altmann: Foul Matters | Spike

Oct 01 2016

The leading image for Mathis Altmann’s exhibition “Foul Matters”, the German artist’s (*1987) first solo show in the United States, is a sixteenth-century woodcut that depicts people swerving in the street to (just) avoid buckets of shit thrown out of windows above. In this coprological vein, a series of miniaturist wall-mounted sculptures lined one side of the gallery, presenting the artist’s interest in waste management in the do- mestic sphere. A miniature door, with stained-glass windows and enticingly ajar, serves as the entrance to a plastic trash can. A pair of immaculate beds are couched by im- maculately tidy turds. A carpeted room is empty save for rolls of tiny toilet piper, a PVC drainpipe its dominant architectural feature. At first pass, these seem to offer a miscellany of one-liners: shit is exhausting. Yet the indelicacy of the subject matter finds a contrast in the precision of the artist’s hand, suggesting a deeper tension in these dioramas of home life, where the scatological provides the only trace of the living body. There’s humour in Altmann’s humanism, as well as a cool defiance.

Switching scales, a life-size sofa was angled against the opposite wall, populated by a colony of resin-coated mealworms. Mealworms are the larval form of the meal- worm beetle, which is known for breeding rampantly, hatching five hundred eggs at a time. They have been found to survive off Styrofoam, turning this significant waste source into compost. Here, occupying a couch built for humans, these larval allies provided a blithely realistic corrective to the vanity under attack throughout this show.