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Agonies and Ecstasies: Kai Althoff’s Dreamworks

Every now and then – not too often, of course, but luckily also not that seldom – an exhibition takes place somewhere that succeeds (more or less thoroughly) in dislocating and disorienting my viewing habits, in subverting, with varying degrees of benign force, the general pattern of expectations that I have come to inhabit as a professional art viewer – that is, someone who goes to museums, kunsthalles, galleries and various other art spaces because he or she, in some sense or other, ‘has’ to, and perhaps far less often than because he or she wants to. (Already here ‘desire’ establishes itself as a problem in and of the art world.) Foremost among these expectations ranks the delusory will to comprehension – the presumed ability to grasp the meaning of the art on display, even if (or especially if) it takes a lot of explaining, say, on the part of a willing gallery attendant, for it is assumed that such hard-won comprehension or insight – the sudden, all-illuminating flash of understanding, the ‘genuine knowledge’ referred to in the Schelling quotation above – will eventually also open our eyes to the relative beauty or aesthetic qualities of the artwork in question.