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Art installation with television sets and glass and metal vitrines
Art installation with television sets and glass and metal vitrines

Reinhard Mucha, The Germany Device [2021], [2002], 1990. Photo: Jochen Arentzen. © muchaArchiv / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022. Courtesy Reinhard Mucha and Sprüth Magers, Berlin

Der Mucha – An Initial Suspicion at Kunstsammlung NRW, Düsseldorf, establishes Reinhard Mucha as one of Germany’s most estimable living artists

To grow up in Germany in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, as Reinhard Mucha did – he was born in 1950 in the city that now hosts this weighty two-venue retrospective – was to do so in a present tangled horrendously but silently with the past. Many Germans – teachers, politicians, judges – were former Nazis; still in place, too, were Holocaust-enabling infrastructure like chemical industries and, crucially for numerous artworks that Mucha would come to make, the railway network. The ‘economic miracle’ or Wirtschaftswunder that began during the 1950s had rehabilitated those supposed qualities of ‘Germanness’ (rigid discipline and willing subordination, an obsession with precision and order) that Nazism had grotesquely fetishised. And nobody was talking about any of it, or about the war. In the face of this, though, Mucha’s art over the last four decades – from small, plangent arrangements of used footstools to a full-size Ferris wheel fashioned from metal ladders, office chairs and desks and fluorescent lights, lashed together with electrical cords – is not concerned with voicing the unsaid, or not quite. It asks how you make art about, or around, what can’t ever be come to terms with, even were it to be addressed; it wonders how form might intercede with the unspeakable.

Take Dokumente I–IV (Documents 1–4, 1992), which occupies one of 15 sizeable rooms devoted to Mucha at the K21 branch of the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen. Its four highly similar parts assume his (relatively) signature form of a relief-cum-vitrine, several metres wide and hung on the wall. Each contains, decentred on the right, a wooden-framed grid of antique black-and-white photographs showing, it appears, members of a German workers’ council – representing the workforce to the bosses; one is circled and annotated ‘king’ – in 1975, and a glowing blank lightbox on the left. These elements are set, in turn, within a piece of precisely fitted-together engineering, alternating horizontal bands of steel and felt, and fetishising detail (Mucha insists on slot-head screws). Meanwhile, each glass frontage is subtly enamelled with tidy straight lines, their configuration changing from work to work like variations on a code. In one of the ‘documents’, the workers have vanished. That’s classic Mucha: making a statement of sorts, then reversing on it. For what, exactly, do we have here? An evocation of German industry and bureaucratic values, expressed in technically sympathetic facture (four pieces of industrial craftsmanship), structured partly around a beckoning white void, and taking a form that itself equivocates, landing somewhere between sculpture, 2D image and photographic archive. The longer you look, the more it slips through your fingers, by Mucha’s design.

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