Reinhard Mucha, one of the most significant European sculptors working today, emerged in the 1980s to experiment with forms that allude to architecture and interiors in order to explore a sense of profound solitude and loss of the “subject,” manifested through the reference to man-made spaces, but without the depiction of a human being. Parallel to the sense of loss seen in modern and utopian design of the 1970s, Mucha constructs his work by combining worn-out and found materials (old doors, mattresses, various woods, Belatom)with other new materials (felt, wood, glass).Sometimes he creates ephemeral agglomerations of objects that are taken apart at the end of an exhibition; at other times he creates enduring and complex installations of elements that relate to the exhibition context, which is the case with Mutterseelenallein (All Alone), 1989. And sometimes he creates autonomous sculptures in the form of heavy, empty vitrines, hung on the wall ,which evoke exhibition devices (showcases, display cabinets), as in Seelow – Für François Robelin (Seelow –For François Robelin), 2003-6.
With this genre, Mucha emphasizes the weight and drama of modern German history —both its projects and its collapse. Meaning is found precisely in the contrast between the elaborate construction of the display case and the apparent void that it contains. Each new case, or vitrine, that Mucha creates is added to an existing series that, for the artist, constitutes a larger and wider-ranging project.
After he makes a new work in the series, Mucha intuitively chooses a title from a list of 242 names of German cities with railroad stations, originally collected in the installation/archive Wartesaal (Waiting Room),
1979–82/1997. The list contains the names of cities that have a maximum of six letters. While a student at the Düsseldorf Academy, in 1979 he began creating a large archive of names, first exhibited in 1982 and then once again at Documenta Kassel, in 1997, in a modified version. Mucha ’s vitrines —all separate works, but linked conceptually to the Wartesaal project —are inspired by old railroad signs, particularly the placards found above the tracks, indicating the destination of a departing train, or the large mechanical boards with the list of arriving and departing trains. They evoke a bustling industrial period from the past, while suggesting an inexorable distance from it, through their immobility and through the absence of any indication or name.
Seelow – Für François Robelin ((Seelow – For François Robelin), 2003–6, is one of these vitrines. The work is heavy, as if a painting had been transformed into a projecting three-dimensional form that grips the wall. The artist cut in two fabric from a beige-striped mattress fabric and combined these two halves with some old wooden planks. He then recombined these planks to assemble them in strips that alternate with indented strips of felt, and then covered the entire piece with glass onto which he silkscreened a drawing of an val, the form of which is derived from an old childhood drawing of a toy train track. While the viewer ’s glance sinks into the felt, the glass surface simultaneously reflects the image of the observer standing in the space in front of the work; the silkscreen painting, instead, permanently draws the viewer ’s glance to the level of the surface.
A similar structuring of the viewer’s glance between the depths, the space in front, and the painted surface occurs in the sixteen vitrines that make up the principal part of the installation Mutterseelenallein (All Alone). In 1989 Mucha created this large, complex installation at the Lia Rumma gallery in Naples; the German title, an expression that indicates a mood, combines the words “mother,“ soul ”and “alone.” The sixteen heavy display cases in wood, felt, aluminum, and glass are hung low on the walls, accentuating their weight, and they are illuminated by a series of neon lights positioned vertically between the cases. At the center of all but one of the cases is a black- and-white photograph of an empty chair .All different, the chairs are those used by museum guards or tired visitors at an exhibition in Düsseldorf. They suggest a deep void, the solitude of every individual, and yet they also celebrate the poetry of expectation, the specificity of each chair and each person. Indeed, like a person, the work grows and is transformed over time and measures the time of its exhibition. After Naples, it was located for many years in a museum in Frankfurt, where Mucha added wooden walls beneath the cases, as if vertically repositioning the parquet flooring. In the work ’s new installation for the collection of the Castello di Rivoli, Mucha, proposes to heap the left-over Frankfurt parquet into a pile at the center of the room, while the cement walls of the Piedmontese museum appear to have risen up behind the sixteen cases on the walls. The work does not exist outside time, but marks the rhythm of time through its transformations and consequently marks the rhythm of our time.