this issue contains
>> Kai Althoff
>> Janek Simon

>> archive

 
A Playground of Submission and Execution
Kai Althoff at the Zurich Kunsthalle



Teenage daydreams – beguiling, but disturbing. For his current exhibition, sponsored by the Deutsche Bank Foundation, Kai Althoff has created a magnificent gesamtkunstwerk. Eva Karcher immersed herself in its surreal rooms of devotion.

In any case, I don’t wish you well. Whoever proclaims his negative intentions so honestly in a title can surely be trusted. The door of the pale yellow filigree wickerwork at the entrance to the first room of Kai Althoff's new exhibition at the Kunsthalle Zurich stands wide open; it is the first major European exhibition of the artist's work in a long time.



Kai Althoff, "Ich meine es auf jeden Fall schlecht mit ihnen",
installation view Kunsthalle Zürich
Photo A. Burger, 2007. Courtesy Kunsthalle Zürich

As in all his installations, he has transformed the space into a devotional chamber filled with fetishes and mementoes of personal and collective affections and aversions, adding a touch of drama here and there with glittering candy-colored or bleeding ruby-red accents. Rugs and wall fabrics cover the walls and floors in shades of eggshell, ocher, sienna, and umbra; paintings and drawings made over the past twenty years hang on walls and room dividers. Althoff combines these in changing environments, draping cascades of fabric around them, adorning them with tulle and organdy, spreading them out on floors, building them a pedestal or grouping them together with other objects. In his salons, boudoirs, and foyers, he situates them either as precious glittering jokers or as decorative tapestries and accessories, depending on the context.



Kai Althoff, "Ich meine es auf jeden Fall schlecht mit ihnen",
installation view Kunsthalle Zürich
Photo A. Burger, 2007. Courtesy Kunsthalle Zürich

Above all, it's his paintings and sculptures that have (quite rightly) attained fame and demand high prices among collectors in Europe and the USA. They are autonomous and work easily in any white cube situation. As elements of an interior, however, they provide a kind of trophy character, sentimental and surreal fragments that enter the artist’s narrative mosaic.

The fact that Althoff, born in Cologne in 1966, still lives and works in the city of his birth, might also be an indication that he sees home both as a place of refuge and of departure, a breeding cell both for terrorism and utopia.




Kai Althoff, untitled, approx. 1994
Deutsche Bank Collection


From the very beginning, his paintings and drawings have been brilliant and utterly inimitable. With an extraordinary sensuality and sensitivity for the respective stylistic aura of his mammoth visual inventories of high and trivial culture, Althoff distills the images' aromatic essence and injects it into his works. He underscores its perfume with delicate aromas that are mixed and sprayed according to recipes he keeps strictly secret. He superimposes Advent calendar folklore and Pieter Brueghel lumpiness over the wall works, psychedelic pop and Clockwork Orange sado-glamour, Gustav Moreau decadence and Kirchner-Munch expressiveness, Paul Gauguin exotic and Aubrey Beardsley elegance. And so on. Even James Ensor and Ferdinand Hodler as well as gothic church windows and cartoons by Robert Crumb become the atmospheric ingredients of a visual language that neither quotes nor copies, but seeks its natural and elective affinities with aesthetic means.




Kai Althoff, untitled, 1994
Deutsche Bank Collection



It's probably for this reason that Althoff's two-dimensional works spill over their edges and transform spaces that in turn offer them protection like cocoons, harbor and hide them like treasure caves and secret lodges, or on the contrary expose them, put them on show as in discos and youth clubs.

Althoff composes playgrounds of passion, submission, and execution. Great theater takes place everywhere here, in every corner, in every last hiding place and also on every centimeter of painted and drawn surface. Feelings ignite in blazing flames, wallowing and enraptured, stricken and twitching. The pulse beats jubilant or inconsolable, the thermometer of the emotions rises and falls from the gentlest waves of feverish longing to the most brutally devastating degree of cold shock.



[1] [2]