Patrik Sebastian Schmidt

Dealings: Concerning Mühlenbrink.

In: Jochen Mühlenbrink: ROHSTOFF, Radius-Verlag, Stuttgart, 2011


It’s the telephone, middle of the night. It’s MÜHLENBRINK, who asks, “Lisa, did I wake you up?”


Lisa, could you help me? You have to. My catalogue writer let me down, threw in the towel. But I need the text, for the show, absolutely.”

Lisa considers. MÜHLENBRINK hopes.

By when?”

MÜHLENBRINK laughs (despairingly).

By tomorrow morning, ladies and gentlemen, tomorrow morning, but of course I don’t intend to talk that long...” The speaker paused, took time for a satisfied smirk, horrible person this Hornbichler, whispered Frank, who could hardly see anything over the crowd, to his wife, he’s so loud, skinny like a man who stints himself, fleshless but bloated the renowned face from which he has just thoughtfully removed his glasses:


Well, ladies and gentlemen, it was just in this literary way, I was convinced, that I would have to commence my talk on the artist Jochen Mühlenbrink. Naturally that was foolish. Do you know what dialectical inconsistency is? No? Neither do I.” He wiped his heavy hornrimmed glasses on his sleeve, which was as greasy as his rumpled black hair.

I had,” he continued, “the opportunity, during a visit to his studio, to converse at length with Mühlenbrink about his recent works. He explained their emergence as reflecting a search in which he found himself becoming increasingly involved. He had taken a stance towards the motifs that were important to him, worked his fingers to the bone over them. And then? What did Mühlenbrink do in this situation? Something astonishing! He turned away, from the essential poles of which art consists, from its material nature, on the one hand – he turned away from the painting ground, the canvas, reversed it. And, on the other hand, from art’s ideal nature. For what are these pictures, if not the question, Where is the motif, where is the content? What we see is the reverse side of all the canvases, and it’s empty!”


There are continuities, of course. One of these objects is titled Malerkoffer III (Painter’s Box), 2010, oil on wood and pressboard, 22 x 67 x 75 cm. But what does it mean when the painter’s box, previously in the picture, is now an object? Is it still the same box? Aren’t we deluding ourselves in thinking we can still take something out of this cardboard box? Is it even a cardboard box? No, by no means. There’s no place to open it, not without destroying it, so this metaphor doesn’t get us any further.”

Hornbichler cast his statements with a flourish among the guests, who were closely surrounded on all sides by Mühlenbrink’s art. “So Mühlenbrink,” he explained, “is performing an evident gesture of renunciation. But gesture, motion, motus in Latin, that is precisely the point, ladies and gentlemen.”


Hornbichler took a deep breath, like a bellows, preparing to stoke his furor. Frank felt like throwing his champagne glass at him, what a moron, he thought, hoping to exchange a disdainful glance with his wife, but his wife was listening enthralled to the strident speaker. Frank knew what Hornbichler was driving at – that this renunciation was actually a magnificent confirmation, a turn to material, canvas, wood, even cardboard? The same regarding the issue of depiction, and in the end, the emancipation of painting from material and idea, the emancipation of the work of art in and from its constitution.


What he was hardly able to bear – the fact that Mühlenbrink had spoken so openly with Hornbichler, in the midst of his works, that was a blow for Frank, like an obscene word from an impertinent mouth. Mühlenbrink and he had been friends since their time at the academy, but since Frank had been in Munich he had visited Mühlenbrink only a single time in his Düsseldorf studio, in an old corner building bucking a busy intersection, a ship’s bow plowing through the storm, yet at the same time an osmotic monk’s cell, pervious to the noise and the daylight. This space you entered seemed consituted almost solely of the harsh, dirty outside world. Even a Hornbichler should be able to understand that Mühlenbrink was concerned with the spaces opened out by art and the state of things in these spaces. How much space is contained in two canvases leaning against each other in a painting? And in a triptych of leanings into whose frames the whole world falls in the form of light? And would it be more or less space than the pictorial space painted for our eye in these raw images of bare canvases? And must order hold valid in these spaces? If so, what order?


Frank had spent a long time, despite the jostling in the gallery, in front of Schöner Sterben (Nicer Dying), 2010, oil on canvas, 100 x 74 cm. Though in recent years he and Mühlenbrink had become estranged, if not strangers to each other, Frank thought he understood him at that moment. What his friend never tired of doing was to confront order with a challenge, and this challenge was simply – I paint. The order of transitoriness and constancy in Pack Series is an order only on first glance, and that makes it a different order. But, Patrik went on reading, carefully avoiding raising his eyes from the sheet, even this interpretation would not be a specific order. In Mal Heur III, 2011, oil on canvas, 100 x 74 cm, Mühlenbrink challenged it precisely by not showing a collapsed order in the broken frame that holds the picture but a higher-level order of art per se. It is Nicer Dying that casually captures the intoxication of rushing ephemera like prehistorical fossils for eternity. Though human beings did not appear until the Quaternary, they sometimes shine through, as spectators who force illusion on things, because things seldom deny their character of having been made, painted, even laying it on thick. Not least in the touching beauty of many of Mühlenbrink’s works, occasionally entirely without metaphor, shot through with reality, as is Untitled, 2010, oil on canvas, 100 x 74 cm.


Man, Patrik,” Jochen laughs when he has finished, “you can’t do this – much too serious, much too bathetic.” Hurt, Patrik takes the last piece of cold pizza out of the carton. And this is the night Lisa is woken, in the middle of the dark night that has no middle, which is the window at which Lisa stands. Down in the street a homeless man pees self-absorbedly into the snow.


Translation by John W. Gabriel