Markus Raetz

Musée Rath

This traveling retrospective of the work of Markus Raetz is a significant overview of the 30-plus-year career of one of Switzerland’s most respected artists. Included here are drawings ranging from the ’60s to today, small found-object sculptures, notebooks, and wall installations from the ’70s and ’80s, as well as a group of recent anamorphic sculptures made between 1990 and 1993. Curiously, the works are not presented in chronological order, nor are they grouped together by subject matter; instead, they are installed in a seemingly random fashion that successfully draws connections between recurring images and highlights the artist’s almost obsessive preoccupation with the study of vision and the psychology of perception.

Raetz’s art is founded on an understanding of the fundamental relationship between seeing and knowing. Raetz uses an economy of line and a graphic intensity to explore the convention of one-point perspective, both dissecting and embracing it in all its illusionistic force. Memory, knowledge, and expectations all come into play when his combinations of simple lines or abstract shapes suddenly become representations of faces, bodies, or everyday objects with a shift of the spectator’s point of view.

In Raetz’s work the perceptual process clearly takes priority over content, thus his subjects fall well within the tradition of the representation of the human figure, landscape, and still life. He uses these conventional subjects more for their familiarity as artistic genres than for any inherent meaning or symbolic value. Yet, no subject is neutral and the artist’s frequent use of the female torso, several of which are titled, Eva(!), appears somewhat dated given the copious criticism centered on the male gaze and the representation of the female body.

This point aside, the sheer number of works included in this exhibition (more than two hundred) give an indication of the artist’s prolific output, as well as the experimental, almost scientific, nature of his art. There are several vitrines in which one finds groups of notebooks meticulously dated, with a drawing or notation added every day over a period of several years. These notebooks are, as is typically the case, most revealing of Raetz’s thought process, while at the same time they are evidence of his precision as a draughtsman. Here one also finds repeated references to two artists who significantly influenced him: Marcel Duchamp and René Magritte. The Duchampian connection is most evident in Raetz’s reliance on the spectator to complete his works, while the reference to Magritte is more directly visual. In fact, two of Raetz’s most recent three-dimensional objects, Nichtpfeife (Nonpipe, 1990), and CECI-CELA (This-that, 1992), take as their point of departure the Belgian artist’s well-known painting of a pipe. In the latter piece, where an unreadable clump of dark matter transforms itself (from a given angle and with the use of a mirror) into the simultaneous presentation of the words ceci and cela, Raetz, like his early-20th-century predecessor, tackles the age-old problem of real space versus the illusion of space.

Elizabeth Janus