Reinhard Mucha

Anthony D’Offay

The seven individual pieces in this show were to be understood, for the duration of the exhibition, to form a single large work. The installation took the gallery as yet another site of activity for the artist, drawing it into the flux of Reinhard Mucha’s reiterative, cannibalistic, and reflexive labor. Five of the works, four door pieces and one cloth-covered assemblage mounted on an old mattress base, carried the six-letter names of German railway stations. These—Aachen, Ehrang, Trevsa, Biblis, and Weimar (all 1993)—had been selected from amongst the 242 names first documented in Wartesaal, 1979–82. The other two works in the show—untitled reframings and reprises of material from and documentation of earlier installations in Frankfurt and Toronto—also involved looking back over old ground. Though characteristically an art of documentation and retrieval, Mucha’s work is not maudlin. Its contemplation of the past is retrospective, not regressive. It is concerned with themes and continuing narratives, not with things that are finished, gone, over.

Turned 90 degrees, from portrait to landscape, his doors which once allowed ingress/egress to the individual became panoramas to be viewed. Worn-out and no longer functionally adequate, these abandoned fittings were taken up as points of access into the flow of history. One of the doors here, Aachen, 1993, had been fitted with an electronic security lock. All that remained as evidence of this were two short wires sticking out of an otherwise empty slot in what was now the work’s top edge. Described by Mucha as “feelers” or “antennae,” they confirmed that something continues to live inside it.

There was no catalogue to the show, just a handout with detailed descriptions of each work. It was, as Mucha’s work is, a documentation of what is already there to be seen. Picking over the detritus discovered at sites of production, musing endlessly on the material infrastructure that has supported and sustained all such sites, most notably the heavy industries of steel production and of rail transport, Mucha’s boxes were demonstrations of their material. There was quirky fictionalizing—Aachen’s “antennae”—set alongside an undiminished schoolboy curiosity about things. The show’s title, “Weight on Drivers” was taken from a specification sheet for an old steam locomotive, but Mucha offered no tendentious analysis.

Boxed up in combination with his trademark mix of aluminum strips and gray felt panels, suggestive as much of an obsessional need to order and construct as of the idea of function, the glazed fronts of these post-Beuysian doors/vitrines inevitably reflected the spectator into their interiors. Viewer co-optation is pretty much a condition of art. Ubiquitous, commonplace, the use of glass’ reflective properties would scarcely rate a mention, but for Mucha’s insistence on the importance not only of the glass itself, but of what lies behind it. The cabinet fronts were most often drawn on with lines of gray or red industrial paint, emphasizing the transformation and reactivation of the door’s surface into another kind of permeable barrier. In being altered and set in place on the wall, they were activated as a way into what they have witnessed and what, consequently, had accrued to them. More accurately, perhaps, one should think not of a history but of a plurality of histories. How the trajectory of the individual connects with the larger disposition of events and phenomena in the world remains of overriding significance. In musing upon material encountered by chance, happenstance gets worked up into something that seems like coincidence. Behavior takes on a pattern. Along with the semblance of meaning, loom the specters of purposiveness, intention, and direction.

Michael Archer