New York

Markus Raetz

Farideh Cadot

With a few bits of twig and some slightly bent sheets of zinc, Markus Raetz constructs an art pared down to a skeletal structure, a structure that is a metaphor for the poetic structure of art. His work is about art yet is neither proselytizing nor didactic, never falling into the reductive analysis of the type of deconstructive art currently in vogue. Raetz reflects the workings of art by presenting metaphoric equivalences that are layered and complex in meaning.

Raetz’s metaphors are not literary but visual and perceptual. He rejects the linear, rational, instructive pleasures of the text for a language that is symbolic, spatial, temporal. Hence he is fascinated by anamorphic constructs that combine all of these concerns. This show, Raetz’s first in the United States, contained two anamorphoses. Glas (Glass, 1981) and Reflexion (Reflection, 1985) each consist of rough twigs pinned to the wall in a loose configuration that resembles hieroglyphs, accompanied by a reflective surface (a pane of glass, a small round mirror) positioned nearby. When glimpsed as reflections, the abstract configurations become images of nude torsos, like figure drawings by Henri Matisse. The title Glas reflects Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass; both artists exploit the power of art to elucidate, but Duchamp presents the contextual frame of art as illusory deceit while for Raetz it is something magical. The art context of Glas creates an alchemical transformation in which nature (branches) becomes culture (an estheticized image). This also applies to pieces in which Raetz has made similar images out of twigs without the mediation of the glass, such as Zweige (Branches, 1983–87) and Kontur (Outline, 1987). In all of these works—which depend on our tendency to perceive a familiar pattern wherever it is suggested, however remotely, and on the idea of analogy—he seems to be defining art as a frame through which matter passes into mind. However, he ironically reverses the direction of this process in a double drawing entitled Gschlüder (Slimy substance, 1981), each panel of which shows a pair of hands holding up a convoluted mass of squiggly brushstrokes. The marks (the basic constituent of any delineation) in these images seethe with a life force, so that they evoke worms, intestines, brains.

Such mutating marks appear recurrently throughout Die Notizbücher (The notebooks), three books of drawings that Raetz published as a limited edition in 1975. In one figure drawing, a series of dash marks radiates from the eyes, suggesting an ether of perception. These marks throb like the painted energy lines in an oil by van Gogh. Here is consciousness manifested in drawing. Another drawing consists of the word “schreiben” (writing) repeated several times from bottom to top in ever more fragmented condition: printed in a frieze across the bottom, disintegrating in stages to become an atmosphere of marks, and, finally, across the top of the page, dissolving into a strip of blue (blue as the sky, the void—that which is beyond the limited capabilities of language, of representation). Figures in other drawings also dissolve to become sketchy marks that transform again into geometric patterns. All of these images indicate that the mark is for Raetz an Ur-language, like his branches and leaves, which tenuously form an image that may vary according to the imagination of each spectator. The most elegant version of this fluid equation is Zeemansblik (Mariner’s look, 1985–86), a piece of zinc cut in the shape of a silhouette of a pair of goggles, hammered and bent to reflect light in such a way that the optical effect seems to form an image: a seascape that changes as one moves around the room or as the light changes. Here the artwork becomes a perceptual black hole, which may absorb energy (or interpretation, or perceived meaning, or assigned value) yet is ultimately opaque.

It is a picture’s opaqueness and inherent ambiguousness—the muteness of pictorial language—that has led deconstructive artists to turn to linguistics to fill that silent void, in the belief that the rigorous application of its strategies will make art more like a spoken or written language. Raetz does the opposite. His pictures continue to speak silently, addressing the structure of pictures through visual metaphor and metonymy, in the untranslatable language that is a picture’s own.

Claudia Hart