Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Kai Kein Respekt (Kai No Respect), May 2004 - January 2005, p. 118, no. 123, (text)
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Kai Althoff And Then Leave Me to the Common Swifts, September 2016 - January 2017
Balthasar Burkhard, ‘Kai Althoff, Glenn Brown, Dana Schutz’, Parkett, 2005, No. 75, p. 74, illustrated in colour
Given the work’s title, the haloed figure is undoubtedly the father of monasticism, Anthony the Great, or Saint Anthony. In the present work, Saint Anthony’s stare is curiously averted from the figure lying beside him. The dynamic that unites these two figures is left unclear: is the black figure the devil come to tempt Saint Anthony in the desert? Or does this person represent the hordes of sick that Saint Anthony was given the power to heal by God? In this painting the coarse open-weave of Saint Anthony’s famous monastic vestments is replaced by a resplendent yellow herringbone pattern, while his bright pink face and short blonde hair bear the features of someone much younger and more modern than those associated with a traditional portrayal of this famous ascetic. Is it possible therefore that this figure is Althoff himself? It certainly fits the description given to him by Dovber Naiditch in his catalogue essay for Althoff’s MoMA retrospective in which the artist is described as “a small man with flaxen hair that falls like the flap of a half-secured drape over his forehead” (Dobver Naiditch, ‘How I Came to See Kai in This Way’, in: Ibid., p. 13). Akin to Saint Anthony perhaps, who spent 85 years in isolation, Althoff considers himself an outsider treading a singular path. As an individual he resists the label of ‘artist’, and yet as an artist, to borrow the words of the Museum of Modern Art’s director, Glenn D. Lowry, there is no one more “fearless and determined” (Glenn D. Lowry, ‘Foreword’, in: Ibid., p. 7). Championed by David Teiger early on his career, Kai Althoff is an artist whose work is remarkably complex in its baffling simplicity. As rewarding as it is confounding and as beautiful as it is unsettling, Althoff’s oeuvre presents us with a host of thrilling ambiguities left gloriously unexplained.
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