Reinhard Mucha: Schneller werden ohne Zeitverlust (Getting Faster Without Time Loss)

Found building materials and architectural remains are the vocabulary of Mucha’s exhibition in Milan

By Barbara Casavecchia

Island of the Blessed, 2016, roof tiles, rubble, float glass panes, stepstools, tape measures, wall paint, blockboard, audio equipment. Photo: Agostino Osio. Courtesy Galleria Lia Rumma, Milan & Naples

Galleria Lia Rumma, Milan 24 November – 1 April

You go inside to find yourself above a giant roof. It occupies the entire floorspace of the ground-floor gallery, one of Milan’s most monumental private venues. The viewer’s gaze adopts an aerial perspective, while the sounds of aeroplanes and birdsong add to the feeling of being up in the air: Reinhard Mucha recorded the audio at the airport of Düsseldorf, his hometown, which is a constant presence in his work. The roof, 12.2m by 12.6m, is made of old, handmade terracotta tiles – 4,732, to be precise, and everything is extremely precise and measurable in Mucha’s world – arranged, in overlapping fashion, as has been common in Italy since Roman times. They rest upon a thin though visible layer of rubble, and I couldn’t help thinking of the recent earthquakes that pulverised so many ancient borghi across the country, causing the instant vanishing of centuries-old forma urbis, shaped by an inseparable combination of architecture, history and culture.

The artist asked the gallery to make available a sheet with a pair of quotations from a book by Salvatore Settis, If Venice Dies (2016), which concern how Milan recently dressed up like an icon of modernity, all skyscrapers and curtain walls – ‘just like a boorish peasant putting on his best Sunday clothes in the comedies of the past’, Settis writes, so that now there are ‘two urban models completely at odds without any correlation or sense of harmony’. On one side of Mucha’s roof, a white platform sustains a little turret made of six float-glass panes and six step stools, resting, slightly tilted, upon two metal tape-measures. It could be a model architecture, as well as a self-portrait: Lia Rumma’s architecture is composed of three white cubes piled on top of each other and occupies three floors, like Mucha’s legendary Merzbau studio, while the tower of step stools is a recursive element in his oeuvre, as a metaphor for art’s ability to generate pinpoint shifts in our ways of seeing. The title of this installation is Island of the Blessed (2016). Maybe this roof is actually a raft, and Mucha is casting us afloat on the Sea of Time and Space.

How to deal with the remains of our recent past, both as haunting memories and manmade architectures and artefacts, is an eternal obsession for Mucha, whose vocabulary is formed of found building materials: wood, floorings, aluminium profiles, float glass, ladders, plywood, neon – ‘drawn from the pre-, heavy-, late-, and post-industrial ages’, as Jan Verwoert writes in the catalogue for Mucha’s 2016 retrospective at the Kunstmuseum in Basel. He rescues and painstakingly arranges them in minimalist wall-mounted ‘containers’ and ‘vitrines’, freestanding sculptures and complex installations, as detailed and absorbing as doll’s houses – and with chronologies constantly in progress, because of the artist’s perennial process of making, unmaking and remaking.

On the first floor, Die Verwandlung (The Metamorphosis, 2016) assembles a miniaturised reconstruction of Mucha’s installation Mutterseelenallein (Solitude, originally created for Lia Rumma in Naples in 1989, reinstalled in the MMK in Frankfurt in 1991 and housed at the Castello di Rivoli since 2009), with a set of four LCD monitors, showing a loop of video-animated photos and sound recordings at Macy’s in New York: a monument to the notion of display, where the spaces of exhibition and those of consumerist consumption collapse onto each other. On one wall of the last floor,

a 2016 version of the historic The Wirtschaftswunder (The economic miracle), To the People of Pittsburgh, originally made in 1991, frames, inside round metal shoulder clamps, 16 found pages depicting tubes and pipes from a brochure put out by the Düsseldorfer Eisenbahnbedarf AG, the railroad supply factory that once occupied the building that now houses Mucha’s studio. On the opposite wall, in Twelve Lithographs (1983–2016), glass and frames enclose finely printed reproductions of posters of the artist’s main exhibitions: all the products issued from this same address, Mucha reminds us with bitter self-irony, seem equally deemed to obsolescence. 

From the March 2017 issue of ArtReview