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  • Provenance

    Anton Kern Gallery, New York

  • Literature

    A. Gingeras and B. Schwabsky, The Triumph of Painting, 2005, p. 121

  • Catalogue Essay

    German artist Kai Althoff’s diverse body of work – using installation, film, and rock music, as well as painting – is decidedly contemporary, yet it still elicits unexpected art historical comparisons. For instance, there is an uncanny affinity between Althoff and Nineteenth Century French artist Paul Gauguin. Their paintings share formal qualities, with flat picture planes and a propensity towards a yellow palette. But more importantly, their works tackle similar universal themes, often by painting subjects with an unsettling psychological ambiguity in their faces. “Wrestling with faith and doubt, desire and deferral, community and isolation, both artists exploited the productive tension between fundamental, often deeply-charged and emotive, oppositions—to say nothing of the pulsing libido that raced through both oeuvres.” (J. Kantor, The Ties That Bind, Zurich, 2005, p. 68). Their canvases are infused with sexual tension. But while Gauguin’s works were inhabited by exotic Tahitian girls posed for the male gaze, Althoff’s paintings, including the current work, are almost exclusively peopled by males.
    Another artist that comes to mind when considering Kai Althoff’s paintings is Norwegian artist Edvard Munch who is often referred to as the founding father of Expressionism. In fact, the anguished face of the figure on the left side of the present lot bears a strong resemblance to the figure in Munch’s most famous work The Scream, 1893.  Munch’s body of work describes with penetrating immediacy the fundamental experiences of human life such as love, longing, loneliness, and death. His masterpiece The Scream is said to be a direct expression of overwhelming existential angst. Perhaps Kai Althoff is trying to communicate this to the viewer as well.
    Munch and Gauguin are but two of the many artists that Althoff inspires his viewers to reflect on when viewing his work. “Drawing out such references and teasing out these connections is, I believe, an integral part of one order of experience of Kai Althoff’s work, which is fundamentally concerned with eliciting dialogue. By explicitly inviting his audience to bring their own associations to his art, Althoff openly holds out the possibility not only for open-ended meaning (as much art does), but specifically sets a scenario for a kind of conversation, even communion,” (J. Kantor, Zurich, pp. 69-70). Althoff has mentioned in interviews that he creates art so that viewers and he can get to know each other better and decide if they would like to become real friends.This amusing statement brings us to a central theme of the artist’s work: relationships between individuals and groups.
    In the present work, Untitled, 2001, the three figures are dressed similarly in dark colors, as many of the figures in his other paintings also wear uniforms of one kind or another, signifying their group.While in some of the artist’s works the violence is explicit, in this work it is only implied, which has an even more unsettling effect.The expressive brushwork of the yellow table cloth is perhaps a symbol of the tensions between these three men—whether it is sexual, aggressive, or both.While the figure on the left confronts the viewer with his Munch-like face, the figure on the right confronts the central figure and the central figure’s melancholy gaze is towards unknown points.There is much mystery in this painting with a tension between what is literally shown to us on the table and what might be lurking below.




Boat varnish, poster paint, varnish, and tinted paper on canvas.

19 5/8 x 15 3/4 in. (50 x 40 cm).

$150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for $265,000

Contemporary Art Part I

15 May 2008, 7pm
New York