Kai Althoff, Untitled, 2004. Gloss paint on fabric, 33 1/2 x 35 1/2 x 3/4 inches (85.1 x 90.2 x 1.9 cm). Fractional and promised gift of Nancy and Nick Adams. © Kai Althoff
Kai Althoff borrows from history, religious iconography, and countercultural movements to create imaginary environments that commingle paintings, sculpture, drawing, video, and found objects. Tapping a multitude of sources—from Germanic folk traditions to recent popular culture, from medieval and Gothic religious imagery to early modern expressionism—Althoff places his characters in fantastic realms that serve as allegories for human experience and emotion.
In Untitled, Althoff depicts a skateboarder caught midair within a field of luminous orange painted on a striped fabric support. The border between the monochromatic field and the fabric forms the curved edge of the ramp over which the body of the skateboarder hovers, somewhere between flying and falling. In taking on this emblem of youth culture, Althoff captures a moment of ecstasy and risk. As with so many of his works, this simple yet striking image suggests the emotional charge involved in an experience of the self (the lone skateboarder) in relation to the socially defined group (a particular form of youth culture). The work also reflects the artist’s exploration of different pictorial styles and painterly techniques.
Kai Althoff’s first U.S. museum exhibition was held at the ICA/Boston in 2004. This work, made that year, was one of the first paintings to enter the ICA’s collection, and it helps document the institution’s exhibition history and reflect its commitment to emerging contemporary artists.