Since the 1980s, numerous widely acclaimed exhibitions have introduced international audiences to the work of the Düsseldorf-born artist Reinhard Mucha. In 1990, Mucha (in collaboration with Bernd and Hilla Becher) designed the German pavilion at the 44th Venice Biennale; in 1992 and 1997, his art was featured at documenta in Kassel. He is now regarded as a leading artist of his generation.
Art lovers in Basel have known about Mucha since 1987, when his show Nordausgang was on view at the Kunsthalle. Almost three decades later, the Kunstmuseum Basel now dedicates an exhibition to the artist that focuses on the Frankfurter Block, an expansive ensemble of works completed in 2014.
Much of it was previously on view in Schaffnerlos—Werke ohne Arbeiten 1981–2012, a show at Galerie Grässlin, Frankfurt, in 2012. Two years later, Mucha, adding several interior architecture details that had been characteristic of the presentation of the Block Beuys (an ensemble that was temporarily put in storage) at the Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt, conceived an exhibition of his pieces at Galerie Sprüth Magers, Berlin, where he installed an environment that faithfully recreated the dimensions and proportions of Galerie Grässlin’s main showroom.
Mucha’s meticulously constructed sculptures—he often works with industrial materials such as aluminum, float glass, felt, gloss paint, steel, or blockboard—look variously like showcases and display cabinets or like baroque theatrical installations. Some of his works also incorporate museum-worthy or archival furniture or tools.
Mucha does not have a signature style in the traditional sense; rich in sometimes playful detail, his pieces nonetheless exude the austere charm of industrial manufacture, perhaps an echo of the artist’s early study of the technical aesthetic of minimalist sculpture. Its influence is evident in his work, but he rejects its rule-based purism. Mucha’s rigorously structured wall pieces, for example, mix purpose-built with found and used elements saturated with history: implements from his workshop, museum objects, or household items like stepladders, bases, footrests.
He moreover integrates biographical material such as a copy of his diploma from the Düsseldorf Academy of Fine Arts or a photograph that shows him as a student. Yet his purpose with such inclusions is not the personal anecdote; rather, they raise questions concerning the category of the collective—for example, to what extent social structures and the hierarchies woven into them inform our personalities.
As a modern individual, the artist is keenly aware of the normative interpellations he—like all of us—is permanently exposed to as a “citizen” or “consumer,” and on occasion he strikes back with subversive humor. For example, he once completed hundreds of coupons requesting free promotional materials (a staple of the 1980s that has gone out of style), dutifully filling in his address, but then left the envelopes he received unopened, stacking them up in a glass case as part of a sculptural installation. More generally, Mucha frequently intertwines questions of art history with contemporary issues, as the richly allusive titles of his pieces suggest. His unique oeuvre appropriates and reflects the canon of art world authorities and the norms framed by the institutions of society.