Reinhard Mucha (born 1950) is a Düsseldorf-based conceptual artist who is widely considered one of the most important artists of the last half-century. Mucha works in sculpture, photography and film; all three media play a significant role in his ongoing artistic practice. Mucha studied with Klaus Rinke from 1975-82 at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art, where he began to develop his highly complex artistic language that would find full form in a number of seminal installations in Europe throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Throughout Mucha’s artistic production of the past four decades run themes of collective identity, memory, nationalism, the psychology of architecture and power, the merging of industrial, historical and political landscapes. His complex work penetrates several dualities: connectivity and isolation, temporality and permanence, intimate narrative and national history; progress and stasis. But one of the most persistent involvements of Mucha’s is his exploration of the museum as a locus for a wide variety of conceptual concerns. As Roberta Smith wrote in 1998:
One of the primary subjects of [Mucha’s] art is the museum as a site, a place where attention is focused, the art object rarefied, value conferred and memory collected. All of this work manipulates the conventions of display, disrupting and personalizing the museum’s function in some way. To this end he is a consummate improviser and recycler of existing things, be they found objects and materials, architectural settings or his own artworks.*
Mucha has long been deeply immersed and intimately involved in the connecting railway systems of Germany. Interwoven into his decades of explorations of the railway – which links people and places to each other – are strong feelings of isolation and solitary presence. Deeply ingrained in this complicated and longstanding exploration of the railway is Mucha’s fascination with the passage of time and its inherent relationship to loss. But there is also the political presence of the railways in Germany’s history, and the dark role they played in the Holocaust. Mucha has been exploring the railways for decades, delving into their historical, social and political layers of meaning and metaphor.
Mucha’s sculptural works and installations employ common materials; in the 1980s he began to cull his materials from the areas surrounding the institutions in which his sculptures were to be exhibited. Chairs, tables, industrial parts, ladders, doors, piles of wood, signs, floorboards, vitrines, lighting systems, shelving units, fans, desks – all were utilized by Mucha in sculptures that enlivened their surroundings with an intense energy and somber mood. His often-employed process of encasing everyday items in vitrines under glass (as well as the absence of objects in some vitrines) gives his unprepossessing materials a solemnity and importance not typically associated with the overlooked, the practical, and the discarded.
However, combined with this use of everyday items is an engagement with the specific and intimate history of objects. Mucha is a cultural archaeologist; he possesses a vast amount of highly detailed information about the past, how things were, and how things were made. This wealth of information is paired with a romantic obsession with the past, most lovingly found in his intimate understanding of materials and how they were used. One example of this careful exploration of the past is Mucha seeking out a very specific type of hand-painted faux linoleum for use in a sculpture because it was the exact flooring material found in the house of his grandparents decades earlier. This emotional connection to materials and objects is inherent in all of Mucha’s production.
Mucha’s approach to the finality of an artwork’s state is one of flexibility and constant evolution. When a major work of Mucha’s is installed in a new location, Mucha will revisit and reformulate the work – adding elements, changing parts, reconsidering size and breadth. In this sense, many of Mucha’s pieces are never finally completed, but continually grow and evolve organically over time. This concept stresses the critical importance of context and location to Mucha’s production, as well as the hands-on participation by Mucha in the installation of his work.
Numerous powerful installations by Mucha trace key moments in his conceptual and formal development. Wartesaal was debuted in 1982 at Galerie Max Hetzler, Stuttgart; it was later shown at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris in 1986/87, and then was included in Documenta X curated by Catherine David in 1997. Das Figur-Grund Problem in der Architektur des Barock (für dich allein bleibt nur das Grab), 1985 had its debut at the Wurtembergisher Kunstverein, Stuttgart (the work is now in the permanent collection of the Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris). Mutterseelenallein, 1989 was first exhibited at Galleria Lia Rumma, Naples; it was installed in 1991 at the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, and in 2009 at the Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Turin, where it is currently on view.
Mucha has had two solo gallery exhibitions in the United States, both at Luhring Augustine in New York. In “Collected – Recollected” in November 1993, Mucha installed a variety of vitrine and floor pieces from the 1980s and early 1990s, including Kalkar, 1988; Norden, 1991; Mülheim-Styrum, 1983; Freren, 1984; among others. The exhibition attracted much critical attention and brought a much wider audience to Mucha’s work. In his second exhibition at Luhring Augustine in November 1998, “Eller Bahnhof”, Mucha recreated a room installation which he had originally presented in a group show at the re-opening of the Moderna Museet, Stockholm in 1997. The central piece of the exhibition, Stockholmer Raum (für Rafael Moneo), 1998 is an exceptional example of Mucha’s common practice of recycling, recontextualizing, and re-presenting. The physical act of destroying the original installation to reframe the work in a new context conceptually echoes Mucha’s practice of encasing materials and objects in vitrines: Mucha encased the works from Stockholm within the walls of the New York gallery, the gallery functioning as an architecturally-scaled vitrine for Mucha’s original works.
In 1990, Mucha represented the Federal Republic of Germany in their national pavilion at the 44th Venice Biennale with the ambitious and historically important installation, Das Deutschlandgerät, 1990, sharing the pavilion with the photographers Bernd and Hilda Becher. In 2002, this major installation was revised, expanded and reinstalled in its entirety as part of the permanent collection of the K21 Kunstsammlung Nordhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, an art museum housed in the former Parliament building; Mucha’s piece occupies the former assembly hall of the building.
Mucha’s work is included in the permanent collections of the following institutions:
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA
Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Turin, Italy
Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, Den Haag, The Netherlands
Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg, Germany
Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt, Germany
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., USA
Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Krefeld, Germany
Kunstmuseum Bonn, Germany
Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, Germany
MKM Museum Küppersmühle für Moderne Kunst, Duisburg, Germany
MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt a. M., Germany
Musée d’Art Moderne de Saint-Etienne, Saint-Etienne, France
Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, Strasbourg, France
Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain
Museum MARTa Herford, Herford, Germany
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, USA
Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany
Neue Galerie Graz am Landesmuseum Joanneum, Graz, Austria
Nykytaiteen Museo / Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, Finland
Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO, USA
SFMOMA, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA, USA
S.M.A.K. Stedelijk Museum van Hedendaagse, Kunst, Gent, Belgium
Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Germany
Städt. Galerie im Buntentor, Bremen, Germany
Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands
Tate Modern, London, England
The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, USA
*Smith, Roberta. “Making the Very Walls Part of the Sculpture”, The New York Times, Friday, December 18, 1998: E42.