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People of the Otherworld: Ken Kiff in Dialogue

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Key takeaways

1. The gallery's inaugural collaboration with the estate of Ken Kiff showcases a selection of his key works spanning from 1965 to 1999, created in diverse media, along with new works by contemporary US-based artists

2. Drawing inspiration from the book illustrated by the artist in 1977, the exhibition portrays the artist's fascination with creatures, be they human, animal, or mythological, all of which inhabit his paintings

albertz benda presents People of the Otherworld, the gallery’s first collaboration with the estate of Ken Kiff. This exhibition presents works in various media from the estate and loans from a major private UK collection, alongside new works by contemporary artists who live and work in the US. The exhibition title is derived from a story in Folk Tales of the British Isles, a book illustrated by Kiff in 1977. The title speaks to the artist’s fascination with creatures – human, animal and mythological – that inhabit his visionary, expressive paintings. Though somewhat at odds with the art celebrated during his era, Kiff was remarkably successful, celebrated through institutional exhibitions and collected both in his native country and the US. The exhibition is guest curated by Kathy Battista, an art historian who has researched post-war British and international artists for over two decades.

Kiff’s relationship with the US was established in the early 1980s. Following the inclusion of 17 paintings in the MoMA touring exhibition New Works on Paper I (1981), he joined Edward Thorp Gallery where he regularly exhibited in Chelsea. From that time into the late 1990s he also visited the US to make prints with Garner Tullis in New York and Santa Barbara. His return to Chelsea for this exhibition just over 40 years later marks a key moment in the reevaluation of this British master of color, form, abstraction and the human condition.

Kiff’s choice of subject matter and overarching themes are echoed in the work of living artists in the exhibition: Kate Barbee, Hiba Schahbaz and Elif Uras explore the divine feminine and Goddess culture; Coady Brown, Kim Dingle, Joshua Petker and Jessica Westhafer reveal a predilection for painting ambivalent psychological states through deceptively simple themes of the everyday; Sarah Bedford, Ken Gun Min, and Kathy Ruttenberg depict hallucinogenic nature and the tradition of landscape painting in their work. These new paintings and sculptures created in response to Kiff’s work are juxtaposed with key works by Kiff spanning 1965 to 1999.

Kiff’s work combined a mastery of color and a keen interest in both the mundane and spectacular. The figures that feature in his paintings range from diminutive men to towering nude goddesses; likewise, he gave horses, angels, fish and lizards equal shrift in his at times playful compositions. The theme of human existence is evident throughout his oeuvre: exuberance, banality and despair sit equally alongside each other in the work, with subjects as quotidian as seeing a therapist, posting a letter or meeting people in the street featuring, as well as depictions of goddesses, erupting volcanoes and fantastical creatures.

For thirty years he worked on a unique body of acrylic paintings which he called The Sequence, a semi-autobiographical project that began in 1971 and consists of over 200 works on paper, reflecting the joys and afflictions of daily experience. Several of these rare works are also included in the exhibition.