A face made of crawling fingers. A gaping hole in the chest. The Eye by might be Montreal’s strangest work of art. This bronze public statue, fusing organic shapes with mechanical elements, is a confronting and thought provoking reimagining of an angelic figure.
It’s unmissable for anybody walking past, standing 3.55 metres (11.6 feet) tall on top of a stone plinth. The Eye was sculpted by Montreal-born artist David Altmejd in 2011, and commissioned by the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts). It is placed on Sherbrooke Street, on a grassy area in front of the Salle Bourgie Hall, a music hall which opened in 2011.
At first, it looks like a sculpture of an angel, in a contrapposto pose not too dissimilar to Michelangelo’s David. It’s also reminiscent of the classical Winged Victory of Samothrace, which was an inspiration to the artist, in particular the impact of its damaged condition. But upon closer inspection, the figure is very different than a classical or Renaissance sculpture.
Its face is made of a cluster of grasping hands, with greedy fingers creating a Ceaser-esque civic crown, and other fingers forming a distorted mouth. The arms and legs, formed with uneven bronze, look grotesquely misshapen, and seem to melt away in places to reveal a squareish, almost robotic skeleton underneath.
The inorganic forms are seen in the angelic wings of The Eye as well, looking more like flat metal rods than delicate feathers. Clumping onto these machine parts are masses of what look like lumps of flesh. And of course, there’s the ghastly hole in the figure’s chest, with more human hands reaching out of the hollow torso cavity.
What Does The Eye by David Altmejd Represent?
Deriving meaning from Altmejd’s The Eye is a personal and subjective task. The hole in the chest of an angelic figure could certainly represent emptiness, death, or sorrow. The hole might have taken away this figure’s heart, or its stomach and appetite. Crawling, grasping hands extruding from the hole and masking the face suggest greed or being consumed.
But a hole is also a window; the viewer sees this image with transparency and clarity, seeing light and the world beyond.
The angel wings appear mechanical and artificial, and in portraying them like this, also foreign and unnatural. But organic matter slapped onto the wings is swollen and cancerous, indicating a sense of vulnerability and mortality. The same concept could be construed from the robot-like limbs that fuse with organic tissues. Perhaps this figure is breaking free, revealing its true self?
About David Altmejd
Born in Montreal in 1974, David Altmejd is a sculptor known for fusing organic forms with inanimate objects. The fantastic is contrasted with grounded elements of science, with a result being a familiar yet repulsive body of work. Werewolf heads are a common motif in his sculptures, as are themes of animal-human mashups, decay, the grotesque, skin, anatomy, and wounds.
Since completing his master’s in 2001, he has exhibited internationally at galleries such as the Andrea Rosen Gallery (N.Y.), Stuart Shave/Modern Art (London), The National Gallery of Canada, and Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. In 2016, he designed the album cover for Yeasayer’s Amen & Goodbye.
The Eye is one of Montreal’s best known public sculptures, located in front of the Salle Bourgie Hall of the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal. It’s easy to find in the Ville Marie quarter of Montreal, one of Montreal’s oldest boroughs and home to many of the city’s tourist sites. Whether you love the sculpture, or find it unsettling, it’s well worth a visit!
2 thoughts on “The Eye: Is This Montreal’s Weirdest Sculpture?”
OH dear, just about sums up the state we are in, we cannot bear to look nature in the face anymore.
Thats an interesting take on it – do you think it represents the ugliness of humanity?
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