Oil pastel, watercolor and oil paint on paper
13 x 12 inches (33 x 30.5 cm)(sheet size)
Kai Althoff (b. 1966) was born in Cologne and has lived and worked between Cologne and New York since the 2000s. This work on paper was included in MoMA’s 2016 survey of Althoff’s work and features characteristic aspects of Althoff’s figuration: moody and dark with psychedelic touches of bright pink and purple hues.
Thematically, Althoff doses German history with a sexual undertow, evoking in some of his most frequently reproduced works an authoritarian, homosocial Wilhelmine society. These pictures waver between elegance and awkwardness in their execution; the dissipation of a fluid sensuous line in murky obscurity enhances a certain refinement…Homosexuality comes across either in this creepy, diffuse eroticism—recall and expand on Sylvia Plath’s great line, “Every woman adores a Fascist”—or in works more suggestive of sunny, even utopian, ’70s idylls. Traversing radically different iconographic realms that often spell G-A-Y, the artist undermines or at the very least strategically complicates his own identifications. He may yet face the accusation that not only is he not your average role model, he’s a reactionary kook… Eschewing both radical agitprop and explicitly sexual representations, he suggests another prospect for “gay art” today, one that within his own work operates through discretion and ambiguity, through atmosphere. If anything, Althoff returns to the image repertoire of an aesthete not unlike Wilde’s Lord Henry Wotton, Dorian Gray’s intellectual “corrupter.” Hardly out loud and proud, this posture permits a region of inferred meaning that skirts both the fist-raised-in-anger and the hopelessly stupid penises-I-have-known routines.
[Althoff] has been internationally celebrated for paintings and drawings that recall early-20th-century German Expressionists like Egon Schiele and satirical realists like Georg Grosz and Otto Dix. A canny mimic, he also creates works inspired by German Medieval art, the Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, Marc Chagall and folk art. Some pieces verge suavely on pure abstraction, while many works on paper are in the form of cartoonish doodles… It’s not always clear what is happening in his pictures, but often there’s a sense of something ominous, a lurking mix of eroticism and violence.
“Kai Althoff: and then leave me to the common swifts (und dann überlasst mich den Mauerseglern),” The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 18 September 2016 – 22 January 2017