Reinhard Mucha

I have often seen Reinhard Mucha’s work as a built place to which one sometimes returns, over intervals of time. Just as one goes back to the same city, each time finding one’s experience of the place changed because of alterations that have taken place there, different itineraries chosen, or imponderable factors that have come into play—so, too, I have ventured through the streets of the “places” Mucha has created. For this reason, each time I document my reactions to the work, it is more a question of where I have been than what I have seen.

The same is true now, two years after Mucha’s glorious double exhibition in Bern and Basel. Here, the myth and energy of Naples contributed to the definition of the work. The exhibition began with the very same title, Mutierseelenallein (Mother-souls-alone, 1989). High up, in a frame, was the photograph of the facade of an exhibition hall. Below the photograph were words that translated as “Chairs for guards or visitors taken in the annual survey show, the Great Düsseldorf Art Exhibition at the Ehrenhof art building in Düsseldorf, December 31, 1979.” What followed was the sequence of objects that covered the walls. Each object is made of a built, massive element, like a case, with a supporting structure of wood on the sides. In the middle of each piece is a rectangular window of varying depths. A photograph of a chair fills each window; each chair is different, as is the space in which it was photographed. Resting along the entire surface is a sheet of transparent glass, the back of which is printed with a stripe of varying dimensions—the identifying sign for each case. There is no specific correlation between this vertical mark and the work’s sequential order or the image contained in each case.

Everything had been conceived for this precise space. But the space seems not only extraneous, but distant, the bearer of a remote memory. The structural homogeneity of all the pieces can be extremely disturbing when the viewer discovers that inside one, and only one, of the windows, there is no image, but just gray felt. Thus, each work asserts its independence, despite the predominance of the mise-en-scène. Mucha avoids striving for effect; he also seems to distance himself from that semiotic line of reasoning which entrusts everything to signs, to the structure as layout, to sophisticated effect-oriented communication. Like other European artists, he distances himself from the myth of transparency, not opting so much for layers that obscure as for the addition of thicknesses, of levels, of stratifications. The result is one of verticality—in opposition to every economic-productivist horizontality—which crosses in depth, not through history or traditions, but through substances, materials, and memories. The work is never what one observes, its surface, the source of equivocal certainties, of consoling glamour; rather, it is that which exceeds the glance, the desexualized glance of the perspectival model. The work is never where one looks, but elsewhere, and that elsewhere is both unattainable and within reach. The solitary visitor remains contained within his own perplexity; his only reflection is that uncertain one of the glass on the cases.

And yet, at the back of the gallery, through a small off-center door, one could, if one had the desire or curiosity, enter a small low room. The place was painted uniformly white, just enough to cover almost completely what appeared to be the residue of old fixtures—the opening of a heating or air-conditioning apparatus, now fallen into disuse, the large valve of a plumbing system that stuck out from the irregular walls at various heights. But there was also, to the left of the entrance, in an old and simple frame of light wood, the lower half of the photograph one had found at the beginning of the show, the one that bore the descriptive text. On the next wall was another photograph of the Ehrenhof building. The two didactic elements, one iconic and one verbal, were split apart, placed on two consecutive walls, but they maintained the same reciprocal height, at the eye level of the spectator/reader, as when they were joined, one above the other, in the same work. And so we shouldn’t ask where we are, but rather, what is that place where memories interweave and escape, and what are we inside that place?

Pier Luigi Tazzi

Translated front the Italian by Marguerite Shore.