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The artist

Born in 1941 in Château-Arnoux-Saint-Auban, Bernar Venet has been living between the US and France since 1966. His research into materiality, of that thing “there”, directly, without discourse, freed from all “metaphysics”, and his taste for experimenting led him early on to consider the traditional constituents of an artwork in a new fashion in a quest for univocality.

In 1961, during his military service in Tarascon, Bernar Venet carried out a performance consisting of him lying amongst waste materials. This was his first engaged artwork. Bernar Venet was just 20 years of age when he coated his canvases with tar; exhibited a heap of coal, thereby challenging the definition of sculpture; produced cardboard reliefs covered with paint by means of a spray gun; recorded the sound of a wheelbarrow being pulled across a gravel path, etc. All of these works shared a desire to make use of industrial materials and demonstrated his obsession for the colour black: “Black is the repudiation of easy communication”.

His early works contained the seeds of conceptual art, and he was encouraged by Arman, César, and Jacques Villeglé. He followed Arman’s example, and paid him tribute by removing the “d” at the end of his first name (“so that the Americans wouldn’t pronounce it Bernarde”). He settled in New York towards the end of 1966, and he exhibited his work alongside Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, etc. A lover of the hard sciences—he collaborated with scientists from the nuclear physics department at Columbia University—and developed a four-year programme, at the end of which, he even envisaged giving up his artistic career. In 1971, he devoted himself to the numerous retrospectives honouring his work—the one at the New York Cultural Center for example, referred to him as one of the pioneers of conceptual art. At the time, Venet was just 30 years of age. A catalogue raisonné entitled The Five Years of Bernar Venet was also published, and he participated in conferences all over the world, even teaching a series of classes at the Sorbonne.

From 1976 onwards, he returned to the arts and his work would ultimately pursue his love of mathematical formulae. He produced notably a series of sculptures called Lignes indéterminées (indeterminate lines), followed by sculptures in the form of arcs made from Corten steel, which constitute some of Bernar Venet’s best-known works. These arcs would be produced in both vertical and horizontal format, and arranged either geometrically or randomly.

Rétrospective Bernar Venet

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