Go See – New York: Kai Althoff “Punkt, Absatz, Blümli (period, paragraph, Blümli)” at Barbara Gladstone through March 5th, 2011

February 16th, 2011

Kai Althoff, Punkt, Absatz, Blümli (period, paragraph, Blümli) (2011). All images via Gladstone Gallery

Kai Althoff‘s most recent effort Punkt, Absatz, Blümli (period, paragraph, Blümli), currently on view at Barbara Gladstone, consists of work in all media yet reads as one cohesive installation.  Partitioned off with a lush red velvet curtain, the installation interrogates the evocative, highly intimate quality of private spaces.  Althoff’s facility with working in multimedia is highlighted in Punkt, which features an artificial ceiling, handmade carpet and life-sized paper-mâché figures, as well as the artist’s iconic two-dimensional painted works. The critic Linda Yablonsky aptly equates the installation to “a walk-in painting.

More text and images after the jump…

For the exhibition, Althoff painted the gallery floors a hyper-real shade of yellow reminiscent of industrial caution tape; a color scheme that is echoed in the artist’s painted works.  Althoff’s artificial ceiling reduces the height of the Gladstone Gallery walls to a stunted 7 feet, scaling down the installation to the degree that paintings are mounted just above the floor.  This unfamiliar, diminutive presentation forces the viewer to examine the work from above or else stoop down to the height of a child.  The florescent lighting lining the perimeter of the gallery adds to the claustrophobia of the installation, casting a yellow tinge which alludes to deterioration over time.

There is a distinct retro feel to the installation—the shag carpet , ceramic mugs in the style of Fiestaware, even the rumpled pile of outdated garments all lend to a 1960’s aesthetic.  This notion of a scene frozen in time is palpable within the yellowing walls of the gallery.  The man and woman crafted from paper-mâché appear forever stuck in languorous positions mimicking those of the gallery’s patrons during the exhibition opening.  Each piece of the installation is placed deliberately, yet Althoff’s order of things remains opaque.  Yablonsky reads the title figure Blümli as an alter ego of the artist, perhaps the “interior designer” who created the space, and who is featured as the male paper-mâché figure.  This hypothesis is highly plausible, as the male figure does maintain a commanding presence over the room, even with his back facing the spectator.

A relationship to folk-art practices is discernible in Punkt, the motifs of utility and craft reoccurring throughout the gallery.  Althoff’s handmade dolls come fully dressed and appear as miniaturized icons.  The wheel-thrown ceramic coffee mugs appear rudimentary, yet their handmade quality imbues them with a degree of sentimentality, even personal history.

Kai Althoff’s painted works famously examine gender ambiguity, often flirting with homoerotic subtexts.  Though these allusions are largely absent from the installation, Punkt perhaps quietly continues this examination of sexuality, notably the gendered relationship between men and women.  Little accessories, signifiers of the self, are identifiable throughout the gallery, from stuffed dolls to crumpled clothes, which speak to the artist’ interest in the construction of the personal identity.  The theatrics of the installation highlight the performative nature of this identity, while still attesting to the highly personal nature of its construction.  The objects in the installation will be rearranged throughout the run of the show, encouraging multiple examinations of their meaning.

-M. Phinney

Related Links:

Kai Althoff’s Crash Pad [T Magazine]
Kai Althoff at Barbara Gladstone [Artinfo]
Exhibition site [Gladstone Gallery]