Acquired from the above by David Teiger in 2009
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Kai Althoff: and then leave me to the common swifts, September 2016 - January 2017, p. 117, illustrated
The dreamlike oeuvre of Kai Althoff resists both classification and interpretation. His paintings, drawings, tapestries and installations conjure the exuberant machinations of an intensely poetic and sensitive mind. They are often considered autobiographical; vague allusions to the history of his mother country, Germany (he now lives and works in Brooklyn), are frequently conjured by critics, while the psychological realms of the homosocial and homoerotic have been fêted as major threads that run through his diverse and varied production. Above all, however, his works conjure a feeling of mystery and mysticism, of enigma and ambiguity, and in doing so, vehemently refute analysis and research. In looking at Althoff’s work we are rewarded by an innately personal response as opposed to gleaning an understanding through critical theory – an analytical approach that today forms the very bedrock of contemporary art and springboard for unravelling its meaning. Immediate and visually seductive, Er Will Alles Sehen (He Wants to See It All), is a standout example from Althoff’s wonderfully eccentric and critically acclaimed practice. Exhibited within an ambitious labyrinthine installation as part of the artist’s major 2016-2017 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York – a survey described as a “fever dream of neurosis and autobiography” by Joshua Mack for Art Review – the present work highlights the brilliance of an artist whose singular vision utterly sets him apart (Joshua Mack, ‘Autobiographic excess, messianic time and homoerotic dysfunction at MoMA, New York’, Art Review, January-February 2017, online).
With an expressionistic style often likened to the psychological portraits of Emil Nolde and the attenuated forms of Egon Schiele, Althoff creates eerie dreamscapes inhabited by mysterious characters. Among this cast of saints and sinners – which ranges from depictions of Christ through to the infamous German serial killer Jürgen Barstch – Althoff often includes his own likeness; herein, the present work is no exception. In the upper register of Er Will Alles Sehen (He Wants to See It All) the blonde figure seated on the floor fits the description given to him by Dovber Naiditch in his catalogue essay for Althoff’s MoMA retrospective, in which he describes the artist 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: Exh. Cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Kai Althoff: and then to leave me to the common swifts, 2016-17, p. 13). In the present work, the artist’s hands appear to grapple and paw at a tall hat worn by the picture’s leering nude character – perhaps he is the subject of the painting’s title Er Will Alles Sehen (He Wants to See It All). His lascivious stare is directed towards the truncated female figure that passes in front of the picture plane; a figure who in turn curses with her middle finger, surprisingly not at the leering figure, but at us, the viewer of the painting. In this work Althoff sets up a complex social dynamic that is unsettling in a manner reminiscent of the dream-like world of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.
Borrowing from moments of history, folk tradition, religious iconography, and counter-cultural movements, Althoff constructs his own semiotic system, its evocative narratives sustained by references that are simultaneously arcane yet every day, at once deeply personal and universal. Lurid and arresting, Er Will Alles Sehen (He Wants to See It All) exemplifies Althoff’s utterly unique artistic sensibility with its own psychologically charged and inscrutable plotline. In the works of Nicholas Baume, Althoff explores “the manifold possibilities of human subjectivity and the complex range of emotions, responses, and beliefs that enable life to go on, even under great duress. Althoff's literary imagination does more than describe its protagonists; it inhabits the characters he creates. Their visual rendering is a form of enactment through which their stories are allowed to unfold" (Nicholas Baume in: Exh. Cat., Boston, ICA Boston, Kai KeinRespekt, 2004, pp. 33-34). Suffused with both beauty and violence, the familiar and the sinister, the present work distils the impenetrable mystery and beguiling narrative that forms a crucial aspect of Althoff’s most powerful work.
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