THE LOWLY FOOTSTOOL: No element is more primary to the practice of German sculptor Reinhard Mucha than this. Fußbänkchen (to use the German plural) inhabit Mucha’s work in myriad guises. They stand firmly, perch precariously, lie flat on their backs with their legs in the air. In each case, the artist has noted, the footstool stands as a metaphor for his own labor. “In the hierarchy of service furniture,” he observes, “the footstool is at the bottom. . . . This matches approximately the service I am offering as an artist.”1 Much as a stool facilitates the connection of a hand with an out-of-reach lightbulb, Mucha’s role, as he himself understands it, is to elevate and extend the reach of his works’ disparate parts. These include everything from wooden doors and discarded metal tubs to linoleum flooring and battered suitcases—all of which he assembles into dense ensembles. His practice is one of collecting and re-constellating rather than of creating out of whole cloth. But if bricolage traditionally dramatizes materialist anarchy, entropy, or a fragile coherence wrested from the junk heap of consumer culture, Mucha’s project (to invoke the work of philosopher Alva Noë) is, by contrast, one of organizing—of “bringing out and exhibiting, disclosing and illuminating” the social matrices and technologies that structure our lives.
The complexity of this dynamic was elegantly elucidated in the Kunstmuseum Basel’s brilliantly staged 2016 exhibition of a sampling of Mucha’s key projects, his first solo institutional outing in two decades. The selection centered on Frankfurter Block, 2012/ 2014/2016, an assembly of thirteen works made between 1981 and 2014. The newest of these, Galerie 4.1—zerlegbarer Museumsraum (Gallery 4.1––Demountable Museum Space), 2014/2016, was a kind of metawork, a re-created exhibition room newly built for the Basel show and based on the Frankfurt gallery space in which eleven of the thirteen works were first shown. Cutting across Mucha’s career and demonstrating his long-term focus on West German popular and material culture—reference points ranged from 1980s mail-order consumerism to Mies van der Rohe’s Berlin Neue Nationalgalerie to the Joseph Beuys multiples in the Kunstmuseum’s own upstairs galleries—the Basel installation was supported (literally) and animated (figuratively) by the artist’s signature stools. Sixteen served as pedestals for fluorescent-lit vitrines displaying framed advertisements and coupon clippings; a lone metal straggler sat plaintively beneath a wall-mounted case, and a humble wooden specimen propped up the toppled-over jute-covered plinth of Easton & Amos, 2014, while its twin peeked into the hollow form from its opposite side.
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