New York

Christof Kohlhofer

Protetch Mcneil

When I saw this show, on January 11th, I realized that all the works were dated 1984. I began wondering if that meant they were all made in 1984. Fast work when you consider it wasn’t the opening day and there must have been some hanging time involved. A few days later I was reading TV Guide and it said “a 1984 TV movie.” Now I knew that movie hadn’t been made in 1984. Movies are dated by their releases. But I always thought paintings were dated by when they were made. It bothered me that all these works might have been done in a few days, but it bothered me more that that bothered me. Why should the man-hours influence my perception of the work? I don’t usually feel like a philistine; to be candid, never. What finally saved me was realizing that I was spending more time feeling philistine than Christof Kohlhofer spent making one of these pieces.

In fact I think it’s great to be a fast worker. I know a very good painter who made a very nice painting in 30 seconds, then showed it and sold it. I think he was particularly delighted because he could infer from that that he was making $30,000 an hour.

Anyway I no longer care how long Kohlhofer spent on these pieces. And for all I know he dated them as if they were movies and spent a whole year on them, The fact is that this was an interesting show (although maybe not up to my perhaps pumped up expectations—I like his work a lot), with a few really good pieces in it. I realized that what had bothered me about Kohlhofer’s stuff was exactly what I liked about it in the first place—its throwaway right-on-ness, its conversational nothing-specialness, its epiphanic “and you don’t stop.”

I really like that last comparison of mine there, a rap music reference. Rap is improvised on a commercial readymade (somebody else’s recorded music); Kohlhofer often does the same thing by painting on a towel or on a photo, and that on-top, nonstop quality helps cut through the environment of image overkill. He makes image sandwiches. My favorite line in the great motorcycle movie The Wild Angels is where the cops are closing in and Nancy Sinatra says to Peter Fonda, outlaw biker leader, “Let’s go,” and he says, “There’s no place to go.” Kohlhofer’s paintings seem to be saying, “There ain’t no white canvas.”

Wall Street is black and white and red all over; the photo seems to show a parade down that street with a stilt walker. Painted over it is a bearded, long-haired man, fallen, bloodied, particularly around his exposed forearm. Looks like an O.D., and like Che’s death portrait too.

There’s a lot of ambiguity or mystery in the photo foundations. X-Rayed is based on what looks like a photo of the shroud of Turin, which thanks to the magic of paint appears to be holding a naked baby covered with white Cheerios. Gold, black, and white suggest a devil’s head and a death’s head. But then again who knows?

Most of these pieces seem to deal with images obscuring an already hard-to-read image. Some are more straightforward and humorous. There’s an untitled piece that I would call “Afro Mona Liz”; it’s the Mona Lisa with Liz-as-Cleo eyes, a third-eye beauty mark, and bad hair. Tattooed Dress, Tattooed Skin is a photo of just that, a naked tattooed man embracing a woman in a loud print dress—the paint overdub is a dancing skeleton with shovel in red, black, and white and a David Salle-esque outline overlay of a fat woman giving a fat woman a blow job. That’s what I call a resonant stack of image. Perhaps this one seemed extra mysterious because the spotlight above it was out, but it almost glowed in the dim.

Glenn O'Brien