Reinhard Mucha

Kunstmuseen Krefeld | Haus Lange

The first few grades at school constitute the phase when the child’s development is most determined by conditioning. The process of becoming an integrated member of society is the result of multiple determinants, and during these early school years the internalization of mindless “punishments” plays a constituent role. “Dos” and “don’ts” such as “I must keep quiet,” or “I must not talk in class” fill whole notebook pages of those pupils who fail to quietly knuckle under.

During the early ’80s, when most artists were painting loudly and vehemently, Reinhard Mucha exhibited his framed punishments together with 30 biographical portrait photos of himself. Step by step, the individually framed and painted photos traced the artist’s development backward from the age of 30 to 18 months. The earliest photo pictured the artist leaning against a pile of chairs next to a scooter. “I must keep quiet” was the written commentary to the overall set of paintings. The awkward and naively painted frames of the punishments and photographs leveled the then central position of painting, banishing it to marginality.

Ten years later Mucha exhibited the same opus in Mies van der Rohe’s grand-bourgeois villa, Haus Esters. There were slight changes: the framed texts and portraits have been inserted into 30 felt-lined glass cases in typical Mucha style and new frames have been added to the already framed biographical memory pieces. The presentation has changed with Mucha’s situation: he is no longer an unknown artist, and today the vogue for “wild” painting has subsided. Mucha’s adjustments reflect the new framing conditions of the past few years while the old admonitions are constantly reiterated: “I must not talk,” “I must stand up at the sound of the bell.” Mucha first poses next to a scooter, then a locomotive, followed by his motorcycle, and finally his car. While all these items are means of transportation, the photos suggest stasis rather than movement. The form of presentation is repeated consistently, as are the glass-cased photos and the photocopied notebooks. The changes consist only of the lines on the panes—the frames in which the words are mounted.

In the concluding picture, the static situation of the photos—the self-posing—is disrupted. Along with the admonition “I must not talk,” Mucha leaps out of sight. That final photo unambiguously clarifies at whom the admonition is directed. Jumping out of the frame, the demand for silence can be read as an attitude of refusal or denial.

In the newly created frame of Mucha’s Kopfdiktat (Head dictation, 1990) the peaceful memories in the photographs clash with the notebooks that recall school-day repressions. By means of punitive work, teachers dictate the framework of conduct for pupils. Permanent rote is intended to prevent any further misconduct. Though, on the one hand, the repetitions in Mucha’s installation seem like further conditioning his content, because it is self-framed, functions antithetically. That which in school was intended to modify social behavior has been transformed into a subversive demand to ignore given structures and create one’s own frame.

Sabine B. Vogel

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.