Time Out New York / February 8, 2011

Kai Althoff

Ever one for stage-setting, Kai Althoff has coated half of Gladstone Gallery’s usually immaculate gray concrete floor with a wash of bright yellow paint (now scuffed, and blackened with Chelsea slush), lowered the ceiling, and chopped up the remaining interior with two sets of red curtains. The altered space—redolent more in its dreamlike oddity of Twin Peaks than of the artist’s native Cologne—forms an arena for a ragtag selection of paintings, drawings and sculptures. But while characteristically heterogeneous in presentation, most of the images here contain a figure or figures that err on the side of the grotesque. These undesirables are shown engaging in various activities, from shopping and socializing to other more enigmatic, malicious—or at least questionable—pursuits.

Althoff draws heavily on German Expressionism—there are hints of Georg Grosz, Emil Nolde and Otto Dix in his stylized portraits—to create a world curiously out of time; even when his protagonists are obviously present-day, there’s a folksy look to their depiction that gives the viewer pause. But the self-taught Althoff is no slave to art history. He throws in numerous destabilizing elements: two spiky mannequins leaning against a collection of wonky handmade mugs, for instance, or a grungy-looking rug raised just above the floor and surrounded by scraps of fabric. And while he can clearly draw, there’s an instance of off-color ugliness or uncomfortable subject matter for every moment of graphic refinement. For viewers not put off by this contrarian tendency, there’s plenty here to tangle with.