About the Artist

Markus Raetz

Markus Raetz is a sculptor and conceptual artist who lives in Switzerland. His art is usually described as being about issues of reality and illusion. For example, he has made a sculpture that suggests the pipe painted by Renee Magritte in 1929. Magritte inscribed his picture "Ceci n' est pas une pipe," (This is not a pipe), and Raetz calls his free-standing sculpture of a pipe "Nichtpfeife" (Non-Pipe).

As you move around it, you see that it is a somewhat flat, twisted piece of cast iron. Not only is it not a pipe, it is not even an illusion of a pipe except from one particular spot. Still, once you see the pipe you don't forget it, and there's a kind of delight in walking around, putting it together and taking it apart in your mind.

Raetz was born in Buren, a small town near Bern, Switzerland, in 1941. He grew up there, worked as an assistant to a local artist during school vacations, took teacher training in Bern, and worked as a teacher from the ages of twenty to twenty-two. He has had no formal art training, except "half a year studying etching in Amsterdam." However, he knew, he says, from the age of ten that he would be an artist. "My father liked to draw. He saw that maybe I would do something he had wanted to do."

Raetz still lives in Bern. Since he began showing his work in 1966, he has had exhibitions in many galleries and museums, including all the major Swiss museums and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Kolnischer Kunstverein in Germany, the Serpentine Gallery in London, the New Museum in New York City and, in 2001, the Arts Club of Chicago.

In 1988 he represented Switzerland in the Venice Biennale. His Venice exhibition was partly made up of seascapes, but Raetz did not go out with his easel to paint them. He calls them "invented," and the essayist for the Venice catalog speaks of "fields of vision" and "continuity in constant flux."

Flux is especially evident in a work of sculpture that is simply a piece of sheet metal cut into binocular "eyes" and hammered to produce a horizon line and other marks that reflect light differently from one point of view to the next.

At Crown Point Press, in the winter of 2001, Raetz produced two etchings on a similar theme. These images are essentially bands of light outlined by the shape you would see if you were looking through binoculars. Raetz drew one of these, "Gaze," directly on the copper plates from which the image is printed.

The other, "Binocular View," he created in photogravure using stencils. In the final prints, the images are intended to be completed inside the viewer's own head. But Raetz gives clear suggestions, and taps into human consciousness in a direct and simple way.nIn sculpture works, the word "SI" (yes) from a different angle reads as "NO." "TODO" (all) turns into "NADA" (nothing). And a rabbit outlined in wire looks in a mirror that reflects the image of a man in a hat.

Two of Raetz's new etchings are pictures of a line that twists gracefully and enigmatically in the air. In the etching titled "Flourish" the line is made from a piece of twisted wire, held in the artist's hand and exposed onto a copper plate using the photogravure process. To make the second version, "Trim's Flourish," Raetz drew the line in spit bite aquatint.

The Flourish has its origins as a drawing in the 1759 novel Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. Trim, a main character, waves his walking stick in that pattern into the air as he is speaking of freedom. Billy Collins, who is presently poet laureate of the United States, has said that "a poem is like a ride," and the poet who wrote it is "the first one to take that ride." Raetz's ride is a quiet one, but it makes the shifting sand we stand on pleasurable. We are moving. There are many points of view. But we hold our binoculars and gaze at whatever is out there.