Markus Raetz

In 1969, Markus Raetz, then twentyeight years old, participated in the epochal exhibition “When Attitudes Become Form.” The entry of language into art as a medium in its own right brought early international recognition to the work of this crafty draftsman and word acrobat, and though Raetz recently installed a text object in a public space in Geneva, his earlier word-images have generally given way to optical experiments, as this retrospective exhibition, “Nothing is lighter than light,” shows. An example of this tendency is Kopflose Mühle (Headless Mill), 1993–2002. Two carousels turn in opposite directions, generating between them the image of a turning head. With metal plates, light, and motion, Raetz creates the illusion of a three-dimensional sculpture. Through light effects alone, a virtual bust arises in our perceptual field, turning continually around its own axis.

In fact, Raetz has been an artist of perception from the beginning, one who manipulates images in order to affect our very faculty of vision. The great range of media and techniques he has mastered, spread over fourteen rooms and a courtyard, is as impressive as one might expect. Even his early paintings from the ’70s, in which he tested himself even more thoroughly than Sigmar Polke in various printing and painting techniques, allow one to sense his virtuosic handling of light and material. Raetz seduces us with his photograms, reliefs, and mirror installations, which demand precise observation of the viewer.

For example, in Dryade, 1985–88, he joined several tree branches at one end of a wall; their minimal presence recalls arte povera, but from a certain angle they form the image of a woman’s torso in a small round mirror at the end of the wall. Silhouetten (für Ernst Mach) (Silhouettes [for Ernst Mach]), 1992, a cast-iron bust turned on its head, also appears in a mirror, not only the wrong way around but right-side up. Raetz builds two profiles, hardly noticeable at first, into one bust so that they appear in their reflection.

In the face of the flood of images surrounding us, Raetz seems to be a Minimalist. His formal language generally boils down to outlines of generic landscapes and figures. This painstaking constructor is less interested in which landscape images meet our retina than in how they do it—so he usually delivers them sideways. The classic, in this respect, is Zeemansblik, 1987, whose Dutch title means “The Sailor’s Gaze,” though “blik” can also mean “tin.” From a sheet of polished zinc, Raetz formed two joined circular forms to suggest a view through binoculars. Through a fold, a kind of horizon appears in the middle, which, thanks to the refraction of light, causes an ocean landscape to appear when we walk in front of the object. In Raetz’s universe, a bent piece of metal becomes a view of the open sea.

Following Magritte, Raetz always looks for the backdoor into the image. He is no Surrealist, though, for he seeks neither the absurd nor the uncanny, instead tinkering with the transition between seeing and symbol making. Mostly, everything needed is already available to us—to grasp it just requires seeing it from a different perspective. For this, one would need years of experience and a gifted vision. Raetz has both.

Stefan Zucker

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.