The Kupferstichkabinett (Department of Prints and Drawings) of the Kunstmuseum Basel is dedicating a retrospective exhibition of drawings to the Bern artist Markus Raetz (b. 1941). Over 200 watercolors, drawings and polaroids, 60 sketchbooks, and an animated film, all created between 1960 and 2012, have been selected for the show in close consultation with the artist. These works provide insight into Raetz' diverse, technically accomplished, and often humorous engagement with the processes of perception. Raetz is one of the most important Swiss artists of his generation. His career began in Bern, in the heady atmosphere of cultural awakening during the 1960s, when Harald Szeemann was the director of the Kunsthalle. By 1968, Raetz had already been invited to participate in the Documenta in Kassel (and was invited again in 1972). After extended stays in Amsterdam (1969–1973) and Carona (Tessin, 1973–1976), as well as lengthy trips to Italy, Egypt, and Tunisia, he settled back in Bern in 1977 and has been active there since. In addition to representing Switzerland at the Venice Biennale in 1988, the artist has been exhibited regularly in solo and group shows at home and abroad, and has been honored with numerous prizes.
Raetz' oeuvre encompasses some 30,000 drawings, and the sheer quantity alone gives a good indication of the centrality of the medium for the artist. He saves every single drawing with the intention of documenting the artistic process in its entirety. The drawings have different functions. For instance, there are sketches of ideas and preparatory studies for paintings or sculptures, including both precise deliniations and playful approximations. There are series of drawings as well as single sheets that seem like autonomous, self-contained images. And there are 60 sketch- and notebooks. Raetz does not like to exhibit a drawing in isolation. For him, every page belongs within a context and its effect can only unfold fully in proximity to other works. In the late 1960s, conceptual art—which gives primacy to the artistic process over the single, representative product—arrived in Switzerland and lent drawing a new significance. During the 1970s, Raetz, who had always been a prolific draftsman, made the medium into his primary, and at times even exclusive, practice. He was soon known as the premier graphic artist in Switzerland. With remarkable results, Raetz devoted himself to the medium and with pencil in hand explored the nature of seeing and its temporal character. Since then, he has been on a life-long expedition through the realm of the visible. In the process, he effortlessly combines intuition and intelligence, system and spontaneity. His preference is to seek out the intersticial spaces of perception, where ambiguities exist and where questions arise. The subject of Raetz' drawings, be it stars like Elvis or Marilyn, or pin-ups or self-portraits, plays a secondary role. What is central is always the question of how a picture comes about and how it reflects the process of seeing. For example, he has created works that are rasterized or distorted—the so-called Anamorphoses. That a drawing does not necessarily have to be made on paper is demonstrated by his silhouettes of bodies in the sand or physiognomies made of little sticks, which Raetz documents with polaroids.
The exhibit also contains some models of sculptures and installations, as well as a few actual sculptures, which show the extent to which Raetz' explorations of perception in drawing also take place in three-dimensional space. In connection with these projects, Raetz always creates precise, and at times also playful, preparatory studies, which have been the main focus of his drawing practice since the 1990s. The majority of the works in the exhibition come from the collection of the artist and his wife Monika Raetz and are supplemented from the holdings of the Basel Kupferstichkabinett. In addition, there are works on loan from the Aargauer Kunsthaus in Aarau and the Kunstmuseum Solothurn, as well as from several private collections. The fact that this drawing retrospective is taking place in Basel is due to the special relationship between Raetz and the Kunstmuseum. In 1968, under the direction of Dieter Koepplin, the Kupferstichkabinett began to acquire an extensive collection of drawings and prints by the artist. In 1972, Koepplin organized the artist's first institutional solo show, Markus Raetz: Drawings, Objects, at the Kunstmuseum Basel. This was followed by Markus Raetz: Installation, Drawings, an exhibition at the Museum für Gegenwartskunst in 1989. Forty years after Raetz' artistic debut in Basel, it is only fitting that this major retrospective should take place here in the Kunstmuseum as well.