Kai Althoff





Le groupe WORKSHOP : Kai Althoff, Stephan Abry, Christoph Rath


Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Cologne, 1995

Titre de l’exposition : « Modern wird lahmgelegt »

Avec Cosima von Bonin, Galerie Christian Nagel, Cologne, 1995

Une installation à Londres, 1997

Peintures, dessins (1999-2004)

Une installation en 2002

Exposition « Immo » à la Simultanhalle de Cologne, 2004

Chez Barbara Gladstone, à New-York, 2011

Chez Michael Werner, à Londres, 2014

Kai Althoff au MoMa en 2017 : and then leave me to the common swifts



Morceaux choisis :

The following interview is the script of questions answered in handwriting, after they had been discussed over coffee and cake. This all took place in the winter of 2007/2008.

Now that we’ve reached this point the next question needs to be: Which role does corporeality have for you in the social together? The album before your last one as Workshop was titled “Es liebt dich und deine Körperlichkeit ein Ausgeflippter“ (It Loves You and Your Corporeality a Freak-Out). Does a great meaning result from this?

Corporeality has one of the greatest roles, because I’m constantly seeing bodies and I often enough want to touch them in all conditions. I have seen your hands, and now I want to touch them and look at them until I’m maybe bored by them. That would be what often crosses my mind. And otherwise my own body that it’s constantly carrying me around. How he makes me have feeling. I’m amazed that you actually just need it, a couple of things to wear, and a bit of money, and be done with it

Are you someone who sometimes sits at home and makes up the balance, makes himself aware of what he has achieved? While preparing this I realized how incredibly impressive your catalogue is by now. Or are your rather the restless type who immediately has to approach something new?

Understanding yesterday, or wanting to understand it is the most tarty kind of stupidity.


2004 – Sur une exposition de 2004, un compte-rendu de Angela Lampe intitulé « Les soliloques morbides de Kai Althoff »

2012 – Un film de Isa Genzken avec Kai Althoff – Berlin

2014 – Un compte-rendu mitigé sur l’exposition à la galerie Michael Werner – Londres

2018 – Un court papier sur l’exposition dans un centre commercial à Chinatown, à New-York

2020 – Kai Althoff @ Whitechapel Gallery (The Guardian)

Un compte-rendu que je ne copie pas, dont le chapeau est le suivant : Autobiographic excess, messianic time and homoerotic dysfunction at MoMA, New York ???? OK AUTOBIOGRAPHIC EXCESS IS ALL WE LIKE

Sur le groupe Workshop (par David Grubbs)

Where have Workshop been all of your life? (by David Grubbs)

« Their first two records, Workshop and Welcome Back the Workshop, with Althoff’s unmistakable singing and the group’s quality of having invented its own effortless, signature groove reminded some of their Cologne predecessors Can, particularly the Damo Suzuki era. The names Faust and Dom were similarly invoked, even if less a propos. They made an abrupt, tires-squealing turn in 1995 with Talent, a plunderphonic, sample-based, undeniably prescient effort. (Dymaxion’s recent debut CD sports a similar m.o. and bears resemblance to Talent.) Meiguiweisheng Xiang is an extremely organic, back-to-the-groove affair in which one’s sense of time progressively distorts. (It’s one of my favorite records of the 1990s.)
I had the good fortune to see a rare live performance by Workshop in 1999 in Graz, Austria. I had no particular expectations about how such a peculiarly introverted, esoteric group might translate their strengths — or discover new ones — in a live performance. That night Workshop performed as a seven-piece group, an awesome three-guitar lineup that followed every hiccuppy nuance of Althoff’s voice; the evening’s graceful arc concluded with Workshop merging with and finally yielding to the delirious house DJ Neon Leon.
Kai Althoff is also particularly well-known as a visual artist, and you are urged to avail yourself of his installations, drawings, publications, and films (several made in collaboration with Cosima von Bonin). Also recommended is Subtle Tease, his project with Justus Köhncke (Whirlpool Productions), and particularly their record The Goings of an Offer (Ladomat). »

Sur une exposition de 2004, un compte-rendu de Angela Lampe intitulé « Les soliloques morbides de Kai Althoff »


Sur un film de Isa Genzken avec Kai Althoff (Revue May)

On Isa Genzken’s, “Die kleine Bushaltestelle”

Karl Holmqvist

Isa Genzken, “Die kleine Bushaltestelle”
Schinkel Pavillon and Kino Arsenal, Berlin
January 27 – March 11, 2012

Isa Genzken, Die kleine Bushaltestelle (Gerüstbau), 2007-2010, still

It seemed like such a good idea when two of the art world’s more iconic characters, artists Isa Genzken and Kaï Althoff, decided to film themselves and put together a series of filmic episodes under the title Die kleine Bushaltestelle. The film was made between 2007 and 2010 apparently, but only premiered this winter in 2012 and is credited to Isa Genzken. The acting of the two main characters is flawless as they play themselves, but also a set of doctors, prostitutes, private investigators, and infants. They sometimes use their real names and sometimes invent new ones for themselves, their outfits, ages, and genders alternate with complete fluidity.

The film is filmed in Berlin, Cologne, and New York in four-star hotel corridors, in the artist’s studio and office, or while slumming it, hanging out on the pavement outside a Berlin department store. While sitting on a balcony, taking a break from their work as prostitutes, “Kai” serenades his friend with a haunting melody that will stay in the viewers’ heads for the rest of the screening.

We can also see them in a New York sports bar, here as themselves while discussing the possibilities and intransient failures of political art, with a LOUD flat screen monitor broadcasting sports events in the background. Topics vary equally with the settings, the unpredictability of Berlin weather reports compared to that of New York ones. The necessity to have money, and lots of it, or the kind of angst involved in being an artist and a semi-public persona.

The film obviously will bring even more exposure to the two artists. Isa Genzken is said to have wished for the DVD copy to have mass distribution and to be available at every local supermarket counter. It seems no matter how many roles, voices, and disguises they adopt, they always come off as themselves. Genzken’s big, dark eyes as she’s trying to figure out the current mood of her colleague hold a world of expression. She’s also extremely convincing in a classic white lab coat playing the doctor, and showing both her patient and us in the audience an example of extremely strong self-possession. Kai Althoff, on his end, is perhaps at his most alluring when playing a teenage delinquent in the sketch that has given the film its name. As he comes strolling down a Berlin street carrying his favorite pillow with him, he comes across a severe looking middle-aged lady having decorated a bus stop and sitting there observing her turf. The young man proceeds to place his pillow on the lady’s shoulder and acts as if he’s about to settle in before he gets a sharp reprimand from the lady, who will have nothing of it. The list goes on with waiters, inmates, a chain-smoking piano teacher with her asthmatic pupil, famous artists, and dog walkers, …rather than illustrating in any way the respective artistic practices of these two artists, the film gives a sense of the ever abundant imagination that goes into them as well as into this very film. I will want to view it many times and then, I just can’t wait for the sequel!

Un compte-rendu de l’exposition chez Michael Werner à Londres en 2014 par Coline Milliard (sur le site artnet)

It could be the backroom of a long-dead dressmaker. Two mannequins, clad in 1920s frocks, preside over a mess of musty cloth covering the walls; another dummy has been toppled over. Hippie-ish jumpers are scattered about; sparse furniture and intriguing tools lie around. Then one clocks in the paintings: deep brown, bottle green, and anthracite pictures, which speak of art history frame after frame. Kai Althoff doesn’t do “painting shows,” just as the New York-based, Cologne-born artist doesn’t simply paint, but also produces music, garments, and performances, in the self-confessed hope of being “culturally autonomous.” His exhibitions are conceived as immersive environments, as invitations to step back in time. Even the installation shots of the show on the gallery’s website (but made unavailable to journalists) seem to come from another era. At Michael Werner’s London gallery, like in most of Althoff’s shows, the destination is vague, but the nostalgic frisson guaranteed.

If Althoff’s dummies are the lead characters of this theatrical set, than the paintings appear at first to function as backdrops: sometimes ornaments, sometimes glimpses into other scenes, other places. Here, a Brueghelian woman kisses her lover as she climbs down (or up?) a ladder. There, a parent supervises a child’s homework (both works Untitled, 2013). There’s something satisfying, refreshing even, in seeing painting relegated to a supporting role. But the illusion doesn’t last. The more time one spends in the space, the more one realizes how much the props, mannequins, and accessories that initially seemed so crucial are only flourishes in a traditional painting display. It is telling that, jumpers aside, the props aren’t listed on the gallery’s checklist of works on view. Their purpose is to give the ensemble an edge, to wrap the paintings up in pretend irreverence.

This doesn’t make the pictures themselves any less good. Put bluntly, Althoff is a fantastic painter. His matt, muddy paint is deftly controlled. His muted palette, rich with endlessly subtle variations, conjures up scenes at once remote and familiar: kids playing in the street around an antique-looking buggy (Untitled, 2014), a woman in yellow dress as if swallowed by the similarly-hued background (Untitled, 2012), ghostly faces emerging from abstract surfaces (Untitled, 2014). The characters in Althoff’s images are governed by their own rules, their own logic, none of which is ever made explicit. Looking at these is like looking at world unfolding behind a thick glass pane, tantalizingly out of reach.

While the remoteness is alluring, the paintings’ familiarity is more problematic. Althoff is a chronic referencer. Names keep rushing in: there’s Gustav Klimt, Marc Chagall, Blue Period Picasso, and the German Expressionist Emil Nolde, with whom the artist is most-often associated. It makes for a comfortable viewing. The brain clicks into a well-oiled gear. No need for assessment, what it’s looking at has long been vetted. Post-modern irony would be a tired position to adopt, but it at least would somewhat clarify the artist’s relationship to the historical material he so abundantly draws upon. Instead, Althoff’s post-post-modern earnestness renders unclear what exactly he’s bringing to the table. Considered without their distracting three-dimensional trimmings, his paintings feel overtly reverent, verging at times on derivative.

One piece stands out from this referential quagmire. Presented in the exhibition’s first room, a large color-drawing (again Untitled) is by far the freshest piece on display, precisely because it doesn’t immediately bring another artist’s work to mind. It concentrates the viewer’s attention onto itself—and there’s much to consider. Drawn over nine sheets of paper—as if Althoff had started with a vignette and constantly found himself needing extra paper space—it pictures a tall, blond woman. She’s holding a pencil and a brush, perhaps posing as a double of the artist. Right next to her, a clown-esque figure, his head covered with a blood-red helmet and sporting a harlequin necktie, holds a blanket that covers a large swathe of the piece with a patch of wavy, blue and green abstraction.

Two sub-scenes involve members of an Orthodox Jewish community. There’s a group of men crowded at the feet of the female artist and looking up with a frown on their face. On the bottom left-hand side corner of the piece, a young man holds some sort of weapon, or tool, in front of another one, whose head is thrown backwards in pain, or ecstasy. Althoff spent over two years on this work, reveling in the minutia of his exquisite technique, and the dreamscape it summons up. The allusions to elements of Althoff’s own world—the communities in his neighborhood of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the angst that often comes with the decision to live with a brush in hand—position the piece squarely in the now. This drawing seems to open up an exciting, new conceptual space for Althoff, freed from the phantoms of the past that have haunted him for the last thirty years. But only the next show will tell if it’s the one he’s choosing to embrace.

Sur l’exposition dans un centre commercial à Chinatown, à New-York, en 2018, papier de Roberta Smith dans le New York Times

The German artist Kai Althoff is showing nearly 40 works, mostly small, characteristically strange paintings, in the warren of about 10 glass-walled offices that constitutes the gallery Tramps, on the second floor of a mall in Chinatown. Mr. Althoff has altered the vitrine-like display spaces, covering the floors with destabilizing sheets of heavy paper over slabs of foam, and the walls with more heavy paper, rice paper and raw cotton. He sometimes paints the paper deep mauve or adds brushwork to the glass. The result is a space that evokes alternating feelings of being oppressed and of being cosseted.

The paintings are fantastic and feral, both in execution and in suggested narrative; attenuated, often adolescent, sometimes gnomelike creatures populate them. The scenes often seem to illustrate, or at least conjure European, Japanese or Russian folk tales or children’s stories, reminding us that once upon a time such narratives were often violent, intended to warn the young against bad behavior.

There are benign scenes, like that of a group hanging up laundry outdoors, or one of a Buddhist teaching acolytes, as well as a series of images of women giving birth. Surfaces are deliberately murky, but careful examination clarifies both the goings-on and the artist’s eccentric paint handling (often more drawing than painting). Japanese screens; Degas’s monotypes of brothels; Vuillard’s fraught, richly colored surfaces; and Klimt’s lavish patterns may come to mind. But Mr. Althoff’s best efforts reveal larger, more ambiguous and dangerous worlds, full of life’s inescapable tensions, if not its sorrows.

Show @ Whitechapel Gallery, London, review by Laura Cumming, The Guardian, 2020

Kai Althoff has been the enfant terrible of German painting for almost quarter of a century. It is a curious pose for a man in his middle 50s, but hisshows are still designed to bemuse and provoke. Althoff is both as good and as bad as he wants to be, showing the cack-handed alongside the accomplished, the dumb against the tender, the delicate gouache beside the cruddy oil, sometimes painted on what look like chunks of old carpet. He never wants your eye to settle.

Born in 1966, in Cologne, Althoff gave up art school to run a bar, co-found a band and produce dance music in the 90s. He gained early notoriety from peeing on a series of his own canvases before they were sold. This acute ambivalence persists, notably in a letter he wrote to his agent in 2012 explaining that he wasn’t showing anything at the international Documenta show because life had intervened. The letter, needless to say, became the exhibit.That it is impossible to pin down Althoff’s idiom or style becomes the point

At the Whitechapel Gallery, Althoff presents hundreds of works, mostly the images for which he is best known – pairs and groups of figures, painted in a kind of retro-pastiche that runs all the way back to German Expressionism and before. A Prussian soldier plucks at his toppling comrade and the flattened shapes are pure fin de siècle. A father embraces his son – or is it more like restraint? – and the draughtsmanship is flawlessly classical.

There is a vein of late-flowering symbolist whimsy; palely loitering lovers and haloed silhouettes that might make you think of Simeon Solomon. There are tormented scenes out of Otto Dix and George Grosz and here and there the kind of flying postman folkishness of Marc Chagall. It feels like the visual equivalent of ventriloquism, except that the artist declares his own presence in the jostle. That it is impossible to pin down his idiom or style becomes the point.

In the early years, there seems to be a lot of implied narrative, often depicted in felt-tip or coloured pencil. Three large drawings appear in sequence. A youth in a German hat takes a train journey, with rustic views through the window; a brawnier young man assumes a mysteriously aggressive pose; a third appears in a bakery, with a batch of fresh bread, giving a “Heil Hitler” salute. They seem to belong to some dark and knotted myth of origin; how the innocent young traveller turned into the baker.

Yet the meaning is deferred. And it is not at all clear that the numerous depictions of Orthodox Jews in New York’s Crown Heights, where Althoff has lived since 2009, are observations, dreams or something approaching myth as well. One image, made using coloured pencil and blueberries, presents a girl in a red dress stricken with a heightened but indecipherable emotion while the foreground is filled with the close-up face of a Hasidic man with an equally indecipherable object emitting from his mouth. It has the force of shock, arriving without source or explanation.

There is a lot of colour, sometimes strong, sometimes dilute, but always in the minor key. Althoff is drawn to shadow, weak tone and melancholy browns. The artificially lowered ceiling in the downstairs gallery looks like the roof of a greenhouse, scattered with dirt and leaves, so that you seem to be looking up at autumn.

No matter that you might be drawn into a particular picture – a disarming scene, an inscrutable relationship – the overwhelming experience is of the sheer, pressing quantity. The pictures crowd together, some of them hung two or three deep, flowing incontinently up the stairs, shifting from paper to canvas to revolting polyester, sometimes peeling off the surface like burned skin, sometimes hanging from the frame like old curtains.

This is such a dramatic gambit. It invites you to browse, but also to walk on by. You could call it an environment and people have also reached for the obvious art-world cliche of Gesamkunstwerk – or total work of art. But mainly it feels merely contrarian. How could you care about, still less pay attention to, every single work, no matter that some are surpassingly strange? Does the artist even want it?