San Diego

Markus Raetz

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego | La Jolla

Confronted with the work of Markus Raetz, one can’t help blinking and rubbing one’s eyes. For twenty years Raetz has explored the act of seeing in what has become an astounding obsession. This makes for a queerly reflexive viewing experience; the subject matter of Raetz’s work is the gaze—the very means by which the work is absorbed.

A worldview that never goes beyond one’s own eyeballs makes a certain amount of sense; it’s a view that remains true to the receptors that brought the material to the brain in the first place. Raetz draws hands reaching into the head through eye holes or depicts a gaze flowing from eyeballs and mutating into branches, cones, discs, vapors, and narrow phalluses caressed by the figure’s worried yet eager hands. These arresting, wordless drawings examine the process by which we pull in and push out information—the sometimes horrific struggle between perception and hallucination.

Raetz’s extraordinarily skillful watercolors exhibited here along with drawings, notebooks, sculptures and small installations, deal with seeing in a more internal way. Many of these pieces are formatted as though seen through binoculars, and though the subject is still how one sees, now there’s something for a viewer to look at besides the tortured myopic eye. When Raetz’s figures see beyond seeing itself, they usually discover oceans and mountains, along with the occasional fragmentary female nude, rendered to suggest analogies with the landscape. Just as the hills have eyes for Raetz, so too the deep valley has a crotch. This sexual reference is in perfect keeping with the general voyeuristic tenor of his project.

With a bucolic innocence, Raetz’s sculptural works employ twigs pinned to the wall to form human outlines. Frequently arranged to suggest the shape of a head, they seem an uncharacteristically precious device.

Excluded in all but one of a hundred works, the lower half of the body is as uncharted as a sealed cellar. When Raetz does use the entire human form, it is done in such microscopic scale that it would be inaccurate to term the appendages feet, legs, or arms, since they more readily suggest insect parts. Raetz’s world of eyes and heads reads like an autobiographical voyage, for Raetz is doing the looking in question himself. This work is about entering into the interior self and about the psychic repetitions that one inevitably discovers; it is about sitting down to an artist’s life of drawing and painting the invisible.

Benjamin Weissman