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Andreas Mühe’s scenic and dramatic exhibition titled Mischpoche —a word borrowed from Hebrew that means something like “clan”— has photography at its core, but not only, his meticulousness stage management and the making of mannequins-sculptures are included in his lavish new series of works conceived for the exhibition Hamburger Bahnhof Museum in Berlin, which runs until August 11.
Andreas Mühe became internationally known as an artist through his examination of the German past and identity. His photographs, produced entirely with analog technology and carefully composed shows his family connections to theatre, staging and acting. He grew up behind the wall in East Germany, and his father, Ulrich Mühe, was one of the country’s most acclaimed actors —Oscar wining film The Lives of Others (2006) or Funny Games (1997)—, while his mother, Annegret Hahn, was a director and major figure in German theater.
His hometown Chemnitz —formerly named Karl-Marx-City during the DDR period— in Saxony was the birthplace of socialism. Both his parents were at the core of socialist Germany’s cultural elite, the East-Berlin intelligentsia. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 when Mühe was 10, so he was too young to be seriously molded by the teachings of the Socialist “über-state.” For this reason, Mühe sees himself as one of the few German artists who can mock any period of German history, no matter how dark. His familiarity with German “ghosts” has plenty to do with his family, his upbringing and his generation.
At Hamburger Bahnhof, he presents two large-scale colored photographic family portraits showing the living and the deceased together as the central part of the display. The picture on the right shows the Mühes, his paternal family, with the tragic trio in the center: the actor Ulrich Mühe (who died in 2007), his second wife turning away from him in theatrical pose and sitting next to him, his third wife. Only two family members are not represented as their own, two children from the third wife are represented as little lambs.
Confronting his paternal family, are the Hahns, his maternal family, posing next to a vast triangular Christmas tree and his mother Annegret Hahn at the center of the scene. His brother —with a moustache—in the role of “the father”. Andreas himself can be recognized as a back shadow directing the scenery.
The deceased family members (father and two wives, grandmother Isolde and grandfather Günther) are replicated as strikingly lifelike sculptures, first made of silicone and then porcelain bust. He has been working in a complex and laborious production process which are based on family archive photographs. They are all depicted as if they were in their late 30s: at that age was Mühe’s grandfather when the Berlin Wall was built, and his father when it fell. And he is also now in his late thirties.
Small documentary images of the production process frame the central works —the two bog family group portraits. In this installment one can observe how the sculptures were created from photographic templates fragments. The pictures line up close to the wall like burial chambers in catacombs. When the project will be completed, according to the artist, the sculptural mannequins will be destroyed.
Other space next to the central room, show the phases with different sculptures poses, revealing a very personal analysis of the interrelationships within the Mühe family. Personal histories, societal circumstances, and artistic tradition come together to create the portrait of a family in which both contemporary history and art history are deeply inscribed.
The entrance to the exhibition is an installation made of high transparent cabinets showcasing different sized photographs: a head in close-up, an interior with plant-tree or an undressed doll with the features of his father. The pictures and the reflections in the glass of the cabinets are mutually displaced.
Mühe’s artistic process, which proceeds from photographic raw material, has been transfer for the Hamburguer Bahnhof show to three-dimensional reproductions as sculptures, leading to a choreographed grouping photograph and a family portrait as its end result. Mühe main interest as an artist is making shamelessly clear the ambivalent nature of photography —between truth and construction. Very important issue at our present time of images contamination, manipulation, and fake news.
Photography has the paradoxical ability to “freeze” everything living and thereby hold it beyond death. In Mispoche this contradiction plays the main role and tells probably more about his understanding of photography than about his family.
Back on time, Mühe became prominent when at 29-years-old he was asked to shoot a portrait for Angela Merkel’s election campaign. This time working with Merkel was enough to earn him the title of the Chancellor’s photographer. He later lost that title when he released Obersalzberg, a provocative photography series set at Hitler’s mountainside retreat mocking old Nazi photos. This work came out to much acclaim and was considered sharp and unexpected.
Mühe has long been drawn to the megalomaniac aesthetic Germany saw in Nazism and in the socialist East-German dictatorship: apart from Obersalzberg, works like the old swimming pool in the Berlin athletes’ quarters for the 1936 Berlin Olympics, or the images of the Prora beach resort, built by Nazi Germany as a future holiday resort for the German proletariat, with its endless housing blocks on the island of Rügen in the north of Germany. Mühe reminds us how much modern cinematography has been influenced by Riefenstahl —one of the most important filmmakers of the early 20th century— and her disciples at the Nazi-ministry of Propaganda. All part of his obsession with the “German fascination with grandeur,” he declares.