Kai Althoff: ‘There Is No Reason Really Why My Things Are Exhibited in a Museum and Others’ Are Not’

An installation view of Kai Althoff's 2014 show at Michael Werner in London.COURTESY MICHAEL WERNER

An installation view of Kai Althoff’s 2014 show at Michael Werner in London.


The German artist Kai Althoff has been known to engage with museums and curators in some rather unusual ways. Visitors to Documenta 13, in Kassel, Germany, in 2012, may recall that a handwritten letter from Althoff to the show’s curator, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, was on display in which he expressed his feelings of intense guilt about not being able to commit to the show because he was so busy and exhausted. And that same year, his full work did not arrive in time for the opening of the Whitney Biennial, and only was finished in the course of the show. Althoff is scheduled to have a major show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York this September, and in lieu of a full press release, the museum is distributing a peculiar and tortured statement from the artist. It appears in full below. (A big thank you to my colleague who tipped me off to this.)

The Museum of Modern Art granted me all freedom in using the gallery’s space and the Museum’s profound resources to present my work in the manner that I deem appropriate at this time of its existence and my life. I am very thankful for this, for even if I strain and press myself to come to a conclusion regarding the past, a lot of the things—and many call this work—I made up until today, I cannot defend or think of it as something people need to see or bother with. These were often just done for myself in the very first place.

Yet to leave it to others to put them in order and arrange them for display and consumption as a somewhat logical consequence deriving from this lack of my own ability to analyze and emotionally realize their gravity feels impossible and wrong; I am still alive, and this is an institution with a history that one cannot forego naïvely, though it may mean nothing much to me. Thus I feel I have to just show it in the manner that my mere self tells me to now. I have to look at things I have fabricated earlier in life, and I will give in to my immediate reaction emotionally and handle them accordingly, when deciding what to do with them now. This is why my gratitude for the above mentioned freedom from the institution is so huge.

Mind you, this is not all my pure will, but comes from the task of putting together a show, which I was asked to do, despite my confidence terrifyingly wobbling. And that it is for the right reasons, it being so wobbly, because of how wrong one can be in reality, when one thinks one does something significantly grand with the mind, heart and hands. But in the moment of making, the object you muster gains power over you and sometimes indeed this power may stem from the highest entity, from all that is beyond words and for a human to grapple. This I believe must have a reason, which in itself is more beautiful than a failed result, or a mediocre result. This happens in everybody’s life. There is no reason really why my things are exhibited in a museum and others’ are not.

And yet it is true: sometimes results are really something more. If there is such within what I did, I am not to say. But the people, who will come to see it can tell. I trust them totally, whether they care about art or not. Whether they are informed or ignorant and full of resentment. They do not need to know of more than what they will experience, and they should know, there is nothing to be understood. They have already understood enough, they can answer questions themselves and the questions they cannot answer themselves when walking, seeing, smelling and feeling while strutting through this exhibition are superfluous for now, and may clarify sometime later, or remain shelled forever.

Kai Althoff
New York, July 2016

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