Bumbling around Chelsea can often be a dispiriting experience, so it’s a nice thrill when a show like this comes around. Through January 11, German artist Reinhard Mucha has a number of large-scale sculptures on view at Luhring Augustine. In press release lingo, his work is about “collective identity, memory, nationalism, the psychology of architecture and power, the museum as the locus for the creation of history, and the merging of industrial, historical and political landscapes.” (Deep breath). Maybe it’s because I grew up in New Jersey and was listening to the latest Real Estate album while walking through the gallery, but there’s also something decidedly nostalgic and downtrodden about Mucha’s materials, most of which look like they could have been culled from the wrecked interior of some shabby Cape Code in the Garden State.
What I like about Mucha’s “Hidden Tracks” exhibition is that I find it nearly impossible to clarify what I like about it, exactly. The closest I can come is to attest that these sculptures–part assemblage, part design project, part unfunctional furniture–seem like the product of a truly eccentric mind, fully occupied with its own codes and symbols. And yet the end results can stand on their own, before strangers, somehow communicating in a garbled way. In the back room, a large 2013 piece entitled Straight features rusty pipes, flashlights, an operative model train, and a number of boomboxes tuned to local radio stations. It’s enigmatic and compelling–personal and intensely hermetic without being pretentious.
In many ways, “Hidden Tracks” is the antithesis to Josephine Meckseper’s show, concurrently up at Andrea Rosen. (Gallerist’s Andrew Russeth rightly pegged it as one of 2013’s worst). Both artists work with the logic of the vitrine, with common materials, with systems of display. Yet Meckseper seems desperately intent on making art that looks like art, and ends up being oddly empty and highly superficial. Visit her show, and then stop by Mucha’s as an antidote, for an example of what art might look like when it’s made out of obsessive need, rather than market imperatives or an eagerness to please.