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Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction

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London

Kai Althoff
B. 1966
ANTONIUS EREMITA
boat lacquer, paper and varnish on canvas, edged in felt
99.7 by 80 cm. 39 1/4 by 31 1/2 in.
Executed in 2002.
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Provenance

Galerie Christian Nagel, Cologne
Acquired from the above by David Teiger in 2003

Exhibited

Freising, Diözesanmuseum Freising, Kai Althoff & Abel Auer: Junge Kunst im Diözesanmuseum Freising, February - April 2003, p. 25, illustrated in colour

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

Literature

Meghan Dailey, ‘Kai Althoff’, Artforum, May 2004, p. 70, illustrated in colour

Balthasar Burkhard, ‘Kai Althoff, Glenn Brown, Dana Schutz’, Parkett, 2005, No. 75, p. 74, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

Created in 2002, Antonius Eremita is a tender painting of sumptuously thick, jewel like colour. In the foreground, two figures appear entwined. Predominantly painted black, one figure lies prone on the floor and paws at the shoulder of another, who, wearing a golden halo, sits kneeling beside him. Adopting the iconography of religious orthodoxy, the present work sits alongside Althoff’s’ works of the early 2000s in which religion, saints, Christ, and the prophets occupy centre stage. As a subject, religion is rarely found in contemporary art – ever since the modern era, the visual arts put forth Nietzsche’s ‘death of god’ via the very absence of traditional religious narrative. However, with Althoff, such recourse to tradition belies the prescriptive secularity of the Modern art canon. As curator Laura Hoptman has explained: “this unique treatment… did not strike me as ironic, or even nostalgic, but a straightforward expression of faith” (Laura Hoptman in conversation with Kai Althoff, in: Exh. Cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Kai Althoff: and then to leave me to the common swifts, 2016-17, p. 145). Painted using boat lacquer and resin, these works bear the opulent decorative countenance of relics or votive objects.

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.

Contemporary Art Day Auction

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London