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Framed artwork containing a baby photo and writing on notebook paper
Framed artwork containing a baby photo and writing on notebook paper

Reinhard Mucha, Kopfdiktate (detail), [1990] 1980, installation view, Museum Kurhaus Kleve, 1997. Courtesy: © muchaArchive/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022 and Sprüth Magers

Born in 1950, Reinhard Mucha has spent most of his life in his native Düsseldorf, an epicentre of Germany’s postwar economic boom – the so-called Wirtschaftswunder or ‘Miracle on the Rhine’. In his youth, he witnessed the city’s rapid reconstruction from a bombed-out ruin to a beacon of West German art, culture and glamour that would give rise to Kraftwerk and Claudia Schiffer. This September, the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen will jumpstart a contemporary reappraisal of Mucha by mounting the largest exhibition of his work to date, spanning both the K20 and K21 in the artist’s hometown. As art historian Walter Grasskamp noted in his 2017 book on Hans Mayer, it was a city where the wealth extracted from the industrial Ruhr region was transfigured into the majestic steel and glass of big banks and department stores. From the dust and smoke of blast furnaces, it birthed gleaming metals, immaculate displays, dazzling lights. The whole city effectively became a trick mirror in which industrial capital could contemplate a purified vision of itself. 

Despite his own middle-class upbringing, Mucha trained as a metalsmith before fully devoting himself to the field of art. And throughout his career, he maintained a keen sense of solidarity, if not identification, with industrial labour. His catalogue contribution for the group exhibition ‘Kunst ’80 – 2. I. B. K.’ (1980), for example, was simply an advertising spread. To the right: a blurry snapshot of blonde baby Mucha playing with his toy trains. To the left: a stark technical diagram advertising a locomotive coaling system. Meanwhile, the cheeky title of his later wall piece The Wirtschaftswunder, To the People of Pittsburgh III (1991) suggests he was also well attentive to the bleak prospects facing factory workers in the de-industrializing West. Whether cause or effect, this affinity went hand in hand with an ambivalence towards the habitus of a middle class that sought to distance itself from the industrial labour upon which it rested. 

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