New York

Christof Kohlhofer

Max Protetch

Christof Kohlhofer is a master of reverberant collisions. His imagery releases an exhilarating stream of consciousness which courses through popular culture, “high” art, current affairs, consumerism, politics, and the hagiography of crime. A seemingly expansive sentimentality acts as bait for what is ultimately revealed as mordant social satire, the essence of which conforms to what Samuel Johnson termed “discordia concors: a combination of dissimilar images, or discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike.” One senses in Kohlhofer an artist reveling in the programmatic abandon of discordia concors, and encouraging us to do the same.

The most glamorous element in this installation, “The Ersatz Piece and the real thing . . .,” was Leopard Avenue, Corpus Christi, Texas, a series of three paintings depicting a section of a motel court and its swimming pool seen at dawn, midday, and twilight. Framed in split-bamboo molding and built up through an intricate complex of stencils gorged with acrylic spray paint on vinyl, each painting shimmers with a metallic luster, epitomizing America’s motel romanticism. In the background a corridor of sliding glass walls is punctuated, on the far right, by the electric red of a Coke machine, “the real thing.” In the foreground, drifting clockwise through each of the three paintings, a top hat floats in the pool. Instantly Leopard Avenue is transmuted into Sunset Boulevard. The drowning elegance of the top hat caught in the sluggish eddy of a backwater motel pool becomes a fabulous visual metaphor for a very American kind of cultural death.

More overtly satiric are the companion paintings Ronald and Nancy at Home and Bugsy Siegel. Both are in oil on vinyl, and emphasize madly patterned, bubble-gum-pink interiors. Ronald and Nancy . . . shows the president and first lady relaxing in a newly redecorated White House. The image has a UPI familiarity. Nancy is sitting, cross-legged and shoeless, in an easy chair, with Ronald beaming at her across a TV snack table. Their comfy banality is delineated as sharply as the edge of a razor. What takes Ronald and Nancy into the realm of discordia concors is its pairing with Bugsy Siegel, who is seen collapsed in a Hollywood living room where, according to Kenneth Anger in Hollywood Babylon, he was found on June 20, 1947, “his ex-pretty face veiled in a thick sheet of blood, three bullets through his skull.” The juxtaposition of the ex-actor and the star-struck founding father of Las Vegas—united by their awful Kohlhofer-pink interiors—is funny-awful, like Hitler’s famous news reel jig. Here, National Enquirer tactics are used to generate a raw, intrusive poetry.

Presiding over “The Ersatz Piece and the real thing . . .” were three juicily painted, larger-than-life-size cutouts. Miss Vegetable, a gesticulating ketchup bottle, and Christian Brothers, an aloof, top-hatted gallon of wine, were paired at one end of the gallery, looking uncannily like a demimondaine and her patron touring the Salon. Across the room, clutching a machine gun and wearing a football helmet, was Soy Sauce, an inscrutably militant condiment. The effect achieved with these cutouts is one of cheery aggression, of consumables touring and terrorizing the society that produces and devours them.

Finally, dead center, raised on a sculpture pedestal draped in flowered cotton, was a literal embodiment of the ersatz and the real thing. It was Santa Claus, but Santa with Jaws. Composed of readymade elements, Santa has a ceramic sugar-bowl body, a plastic alligator head whose hinged mouth is clamped on a wooden match, and a coolie hat lifted from a Taiwanese teapot. In the midst of Kohlhofer’s provocative American buffet, Santa Claus is rather like a beribboned grenade. He’s the flexible capitalist decked out for rice-paddie subversion. He also offers a perfect synthesis of Kohlhofer’s esthetic strategy, which camouflages its lethal bite under a cover of willfully ingenuous juxtapositions.

Richard Flood