Kai Althoff

I’ve had computer problems for the last few days, so I haven’t even had a computer! I finally got it back today, repaired, and I’ve spent the whole day with it.

On Tuesday, I had to be in Vancouver waiting for my car to be fixed, so I spent my time at the Vancouver Art Gallery. The Feminist show was down and the main floor was in process of preparation for another show. The first and second floors were off bounds. On the Fourth Floor, however, I spent most of my time inspecting the Kai Althoff exhibition.

As I walked in the door at ten o’clock, just as it opened, I heard.

“Hey!” called out quite pleasantly, in a surprised tone of voice. I looked around to see who was calling whom and found it was me, the object of interest, and the person coming towards me, a member of my own outlying community in the Fraser Valley. She’s an administrator of one of the services in the Vancouver Art Gallery. I hadn’t expected to see her, either.

We greeted warmly and then she said, “Have you seen the Kai Althoff? I think you will really enjoy it. ” Her eyes were crinkled at the edges in a great big smile. She nodded, waiting to see if I connected.
I’d never heard of him before and said so, but was quite pleased to go have a look.

“When you are done, come back and tell me what you think. I’ll be in my office until eleven.”

That gave me an hour, or a little less, really, since she had to be gone by eleven. At quarter two, I came back down and sat with her for a few minutes. Between interruptions (she’s a very busy administrator) I told her what I had seen and what I thought.

‘I think they are quite wonderful. They are edgy – I don’t know if I could live with some of them, though,” I offered.

She smiled. “It’s exactly what I like about them. I’d love to have one. The edginess doesn’t bother me.”

“I see influences of Gustave Klimpt and Egon Shiele in his work – he sits somewhere in between.” I proposed. “They remind me of that exhibition of the drawings of the Weimar Republic.”

She didn’t quite see the Klimpt connection, but she was quite in agreement over the Weimar Republic connection – similarities to Otto Dix, Georg Grosz, Max Beckmann, Rudolph Schlichter. There is a cynical quality to them.

I was meeting a friend for lunch, so that intervened.

I went back to see the Althoff exhibition after lunch and spent another good half-hour there inspecting his paintings closely. It was really worthwhile.
I remember saying to my friend that he seemed to be influenced by Klimpt and  Egon Shiele, but when I went back I was surprised at that reference, and finally found it in the showcase items  in the third room – the one with the sculptures that he set up for the Biennale. They were minor in influence, after all. The Weimar Republic was far more apt a connection.

“Liking” is perhaps not the right word for how I feel about his work, as a whole. I was fascinated. There were several images that I thought would be wonderful to have.
I was interested in his use of cut-outs to provide texture in some drawings. He seemed to add square pieces of heavy stock paper to his drawings and paintings, lacquering watercolour to board or marouflé-ing paper onto canvas and then using watercolour techniques.

This young man can really draw. He’s experimental and tries many things to accomplish his purposes, but he has the classic drawing skills under his belt. In one ceiling-to-floor painting, he has two entangled figures drawn flat colour – one the background and one for the figures, then all the remaining detail is provided by a fine coloured line. There is no hesitation in the line, no rubbing out, no covering over with paint to hide a change of mind. It has a meticulousness of craft that is simply marvelous.

He contrasts basic shapes and then provide minute detail for things like fabric stitching, buttons, etc in select areas. It gives an interesting play between the absolutely flat shapes and then the detail.
He seems to draw his figures from memory, that is, his work is not anatomically correct in shape. That’s not a criticism, just an observation. It creates a stronger feeling than if it were; and it sets up an uneasiness which is underscored by the leering quality that he achieves in his figures’ faces. Mouths, teeth and tongues are described in fine detail.
I was interested in some of the contrast of modern situations set in an ancient architecture, like the one where the two young men are face to face in some sort of dispute and the girl looks on, astride her bicycle. There is a Tudor style building with half-timbers infilled with white cementitious material behind them.
Althoff’s themes contain human emotional content of angst, anger, awkwardness and stressful social situations, mostly with men.
I like his restrained colour in the Impulse series. In fact, his palette is restrained in almost all of his work, and there is an austerity in his use of colour. These are both qualities that appeal to me.
There were several large paintings, two of which  – A Man Called Free-  and an Untitled one of a lady with a brief case –  seemed to be done with the same intent and same materials. The materials noted in the lady painting are indicated as Colour sprayed on silk, but I could not really see that. I thought these two paintings looked quite waxy. Their technical execution held mystery for me. I found the composition of Untitled (the lady) perfect for what was being described, although the image defies traditional conventions. So it was quite fascinating to try and figure why it was working .
I thought that the series “From Good Advice to Vice” was excellent – very fine drawings (and what a great title!).  It is unusual lately in contemporary work to honour art that is so illustrative. There were three from this series, very precise, meditated, carefully controlled and accurate in descriptive detail. Quite intentionally, I’m sure, these three drawings had an undercurrent of tension, of awkwardness, perhaps even of foreboding.
The weaving illustrations in the next room, set up with an interactive display where one could use the loom were superb. To work in line drawing on such a large scale – five foot by eight foot, I’m guessing –  is fabulous.
I only saw about 5 minutes of the video and it was good. It reminded me of some of the experimental dance theatre  that I saw in the ’70s in Europe. It has been programmed into a Fringe Festival-type of presentation. I saw quite a number of them in the South of France in Avignon in ’76. They were characterized by almost empty stage and the activities by the actor/dancers was barely connected. There was no narrative, or there were small cameo narratives with little association from one to the other.

In Kai Althoff’s video, the costumes are makeshift with wrapped fabrics; the action was similar to that described just previously and I didn’t find it particularly innovative. It had limited audience in the ’70s and still has a fairly limited audience. I didn’t linger to see the whole thing.

Althoff certainly has a great reputation, for an artist still so young. He was born in 1966 in Cologne, Germany and although he has exhibited internationally in major museums, he remains based in Cologne, according to Wikipedia.

He has an amazing body of work and it’s all good stuff. I have little to refer to in order to give you facts so the following is conjecture. His earlier work establishes his classical grounding in figurative work and then his work has become more experimental, abstract  and innovative (which is in the natural order of an artist taking mastery over his abilities). All of it is very consistent. He has a very strong sense of self oozing out of all his work whether early or late in his production. Certainly he is an artist to keep watching.

If you Google his name, Kai Althoff. There are several references. The Wikipedia one provides some biographical detail and a few pictures I don’t know if I will be allowed to post one of his images, but I’m going to ask, so check back later and hopefully I will be able to show something.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

One Response to “Kai Althoff”

  1. Chris Miller Says:

    Hmmm — we’re on different pages with this guy, Kate. I just see angry, youthful artsy posturing — but then — maybe I would have said the same about Egon Schiele if I had never seen/heard of him before…. but No — Schiele could really, really draw.
    Sorry about all your recent mishaps — I read them — and then immediately backed up my computer!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: