Whitestone Gallery Hong Kong is pleased to present a retrospective exhibition of artworks by celebrated German photographer Andreas Mühe, “Pathos as Distance in HONG KONG”. Mühe’s first gallery exhibition in Hong Kong encompasses 30 photographs taken from 2004 to 2018, including works that have been shown in major museums previously. Hovering between the notions of ‘truth’ and ‘construct’ with a predilection for the German historiography and identity, Mühe explores the power and ambivalence that photography possesses.
Andreas Mühe’s artistic engagement with his origin and the German past has been influenced by his upbringing. Mühe was born in Saxony, East of Germany, to parents Ulrich Mühe, one of the most acclaimed actors in Germany, and Annegret Hahn, a famous dramaturg in the world of German theatre, who were both cultural elites in the former East Germany. Megalomania is thus central to Mühe’s aesthetics, his photographs are powerful, masculine, and often reminiscent of images of 20th-century’s dictatorship and ideologies. While Mühe uses various motives to portray these aesthetic appeals, the location of his photographs is always significant. For example, ‘Schwimmhalle’ (2009) is a photograph of an abandoned pool, which served as one of the athletes’ quarters for the 1936 Berlin which obviously contains historical context. Another example is one of his most important series, “Obersalzberg”, in which Mühe’s visualizes power by juxtaposing his subjects in various stages of dressing from superior postures till undressing – in SS Army uniform and accessories or simply naked – against the background of the Obersalzberg mountain, best known as the place of Hitler’s cottage. Once again, the specific geographical site implies German history.
In the “A. M. Eine Deutschlandreise” (2013) series, Mühe plays with the conflicted nature photography. The series shows a travelling woman who resembles Angela Merkel, looking out the window from the backseat of a limousine gazing on different cultural landmarks and scenic landscapes of Germany. The photographs seem to be showing the country’s essence through the eyes of German chancellor, yet the woman in the photograph is de facto Mühe’s mother. Inspired by his trips accompanying Merkle to the US, Mühe meticulously stages these images to raise questions for reality and appearance. Another example is the “Mühe Kopf” (2018), which served as a study of the “Mischpoche” (2019) series. Andreas was foremost interested in exploring the suggestive power of photography and his ultimate concept was to construct sceneries and choreograph his subjects into family portraits that allude to art history. During this process, Mühe started contemplating his own mortality and the vulnerability of the human body. The artist had his own head rebuilt in a form of sculptural replica by a professional sculptor using clay, a material which is easy to erode – the same as the human body is fragile. Ssi Similar to “Mischpoche” in which each family portrait brings together living and no longer living persons, as well as past memories and contemporary events, “Mühe Kopf” wholly manifests the moments of ‘illusion’ and ‘reconstruction’, in which a living person is staged in his own decay. Mühe also explains: “Photography is actually very close to ‘death’, since everything in the instant of taking the picture is already the past, photography is a way to ‘grasp’ time. The oxymorons in Muhe’s storytelling such as the ‘living-death’ and ‘constructed reality’ are simultaneously triggering something in both sides. Beyond times and realities, selected works of “Mühe Kopf” are displayed in this exhibition, uncovering the different stages and fragments of the laborious production of the sculptures.
Furthermore, Mühe uses his subjects as instruments to convey power in his images, therefore, he often collaborates with prominent politicians and musicians. “Rammstein USA und Kanada Tour” (2012) is a provocative photo reportage of the German rock band, Rammstein. Whether it is on walks along Santa Monica beach or on the long drive of San Antonio, the band members are often portrayed in a state of nudity. It is no coincidence that Rammstein is chosen to be Mühe’s subjects, the band’s progressive style asserts the grotesque and spirit of German socialism. In doing so, Mühe keeps bringing back history in contemporary narratives.
Also featured in this exhibition are Mühe’s early works, such as “Prora” (2004), a series of images made in the Prora beach resort, built by Nazis under totalitarianism as a future holiday facility for the German proletariat, due to its endless housing blocks on the island of Rügen in North Germany. “Prora” strongly reminisces the cinematographic heritage of Leni Riefenstahl – one of the most important 20th-century German filmmakers, known for her imposing films which resulted in Nazi’s propaganda. For example, the men in ‘Sport’ are staged in a manner that put emphasis on their athletic and grotesque bodies, whereas in ‘Heimat’ the name literally means ‘home’ and suggests Mühe’s profound obsession with the German identity. Further included in this exhibition is “28 hours in USA” (2011), a series of black and white photographs taken in 2011, capturing moments of Mühe’s trips to the United States in company with Merkel’s.
Relying solely on the analogue technique, Mühe’s images require careful measurement of brightness and arrangement of the lights, but above all, it is the artist’s dedication in staging his subjects and intention to frame a historical context that makes his works intriguing. Each photograph offers a unique perspective, triggers dialogues and confronts the viewer with the past. Sometimes bold, other times subtle, Mühe’s construct management turns even the heaviest subjects into a light and humorous image, and vice versa. Encompassing patriotism, nostalgia and megalomania, Mühe goes back to his origins and brings understandings, contexts, and constellations to his stage. Mühe’s works are not for quick glances, instead, they last and urge for question, discussion and self-inspection. What is reality? What is appearance? What is present, and what is the past? The artist makes us reflect on every received idea. In the end, it is all about power. As the artist himself declared, “whoever controls images controls reality”. The embedded pathos and longing to the past in Mühe’s visual images create a certain distance that unravels details that are otherwise overlooked in an epoch of image manipulation and deception.
Andreas Mühe was born in Germany, in 1979. The artist’s works were previously presented in museums and institutions such as “Mischpoche”, Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin (2019); “Andreas Mühe/ Sebastian Nebe – Im Osten nichts Neues”, G2 Kunsthalle, Leipzig (2018); “Andreas Mühe: Photography”, Red Brick Art Museum, Beijing (2018); “Deutschland 8 – Deutsche Kunst in China”, Minsheng Art Museum, Beijing (2017); “Pathos als Distanz”, Deichtorhallen, Hamburg (2017); and “Andreas Mühe / Markus Lüpertz – Ancien Regime”, Kunsthalle Rostock (2016). Pathos as Distance in HONG KONG is Mühe ‘s debut gallery exhibition, bringing about the artist’s best known works.