View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
This print is one of twenty works produced by contemporary artists for the Cubitt Print Box in 2000. Cubitt is an artist-run gallery and studio complex in north London. In 2001 the complex moved from King’s Cross to Islington and the prints were commissioned as part of a drive to raise funds to help finance the move, and to support future exhibitions and events at the new gallery space. All the artists who contributed to the project had previously taken part in Cubitt’s programme. The portfolio was produced in an edition of 100 with twenty artists’ proofs; Tate’s copy is number sixty-six in the series.
Klein’s print is a colour photocopy of an untitled watercolour painting made by the artist in 1996 (reproduced no.48 in colour in Jochen Klein). In a dreamlike interior, a swaddled infant lies surrounded by amorphous yellow and orange shapes that resemble asymmetrical mosaic tiles. The baby’s facial features have been reduced to the two dots and curved line of a smiley face. Predominantly orange walls rise up behind the child, happily stranded on the yellow floor. There is a pink wash on the left side of the image.
Klein’s watercolour was based on a postcard of the Augustiner-Christkindl, a nativity figure of the Christ child that is traditionally paraded at the Christmas Eve mass at the Bürgersaalkirche in Munich. The postcard depicts the sculpture of the infant Jesus with a doll-like head and staring eyes. Ornate bejewelled metalwork in a floral pattern covers the baby’s swaddled body. The Christkindl is garish and extravagant, and Klein’s appropriation of the figure offers an homage and a gentle critique of its kitsch appeal. A series of related drawings illustrated in Jochen Klein (nos.44-7) show the artist experimenting with the asymmetrical blob-like forms that form the backdrop of Untitled.
The lyricism and delicate colouration of this print are typical of Klein’s soft painterly style. In his early career, Klein made collaborative work with an overt political agenda, first with Thomas Eggerer (born 1963) and then with the New York-based artists’ collective Group Material. In 1996 he moved to London and in the last year of his life his practice was dominated by painting, often incorporating collage elements. His influences ranged from traditional high Romanticism to 1970s soft porn, fairy tales and self-consciously cute images of animals and flowers. The imagery typically conjures a sense of languid desire, with beautiful youths staring out at the viewer from lush pastel-coloured landscapes. Apparently innocent girlish motifs are depicted with a knowing homoerotic viewpoint that never descends into cynicism.
Wolfgang Tillmans, ed., Jochen Klein, Köln, 1998.
Ronald Jones, ‘Jochen Klein’, Frieze, no.42, September/October 1998, pp.98-9.