Markus Raetz

Galerie Farideh Cadot

The work of the Swiss artist Markus Raetz shows traces both of the fantastic, in the German tradition, and of Conceptual art. A body of work at least unique would arise from this combination; add to this Raetz’s admiration for the Swiss poet Robert Walser, and it becomes difficult to speak of him without seriously revising one’s categories. Until recently his work was almost entirely ignored in France, though it is well known to a broader European public. Raetz’s first exhibition in Paris, then, was of considerable interest.

Here, Raetz showed recent work. The visitor was greeted by a large wood mannequin lying on the floor, a figure reminiscent of the “cubist” mannequin studies of the 16th century painter Luca Cambiaso. But Raetz’s “Cubism” is in fact no more than a simple transcription, in assembled blocks of wood, of a generalized impulse toward fragmentation. The fragments he employs are mobile and separate objects with which he plays; for him, Nature—and here lies its strangeness—is a machine whose parts can be dismantled. Thus isolated, each part can be reorganized according to a more comprehensible order. But from then on the mechanism is in disarray. Spheres can be combined with cubes, a parallelepiped can replace a head, and so on. Because this magical rearrangement is allied with Raetz’s fine powers of observation, it is at the source both of the interests he displays, and of the interest he has for us.

One untitled work, for example, consists of fragments of branches which have clearly been chosen because of a certain bend, angle, or curve in them. These branches are arranged into a series of human profiles, each one bigger than the next, each with an eye that looks. The forms of the branches are natural; the artist was content merely to cut off bits and pieces of them while out walking. The effect is to emphasize natural form, the innate shapes of the branches being preexistent to the shaping action of the artist. Paradoxically, what is made clear is the truly inventive power of art—the possibility of revealing the “internal design” of nature and of making it function freely. The series of “looks” develops like an Egyptian procession along the wall; repetition here has the effect of emphasizing the diversity of natural forms, and, one might say, of possible ways of looking. The paintings of another Swiss artist, Ferdinand Hodler, show the female body in a range of different postures suggesting so many states or stages of one mythic woman; Raetz’s profiles are no more individualized that Hodler’s women. If they were, they would no longer function as “objects” among a community of objects of the same design; they would lose their power of analogy.

The profiles here are outlined with actual objects—the tree branches—instead of with drawn lines. The branches are both merely branches and the lines of a drawing. Their nature, then, is reversible. One cannot tell which comes first—the profile or the tree branch. Raetz’s art lies in this indecision, this passage from one realm to another, from one face to its double.

Xavier Girard

Translated from the French by Jamey Gambrell.