Bernar Venet (France, 1941) is one of the essential figures of the current art scene, recognised since the early 1960s as one of the pioneers of conceptual art. His multifaceted work, in fields as varied as performance, painting, monumental sculpture and theoretical writing, is an essential contribution to contemporary creation. His innovative thinking has established him as one of the world’s leading artists.
Turning his back on tradition and the French art scene, Venet produced his first works at the very beginning of the 1960s: tar on cardboard, the Déchets
(1961) and the Tas de charbon
(1963), which prefigured the beginnings of conceptual art, by refusing composition, interpretation, and the use of traditional pictorial matter. In 1966, the artist took advantage of Arman’s invitation to join him in New York to settle in the United States. Few artists had attempted this adventure at the time, and his American years were determining, because he discovered an art that corresponded to his taste for a “cold, difficult, sober abstraction”. As soon as he arrived, he took an interest in science, and met and exhibited alongside the advocates of minimal art, Donald Judd, Carl André, Frank Stella and Dan Flavin.
After a short artistic pause (1971-1976), Venet, in rupture with conceptual art, whose limits he was quick to perceive, developed a new dynamic, that of the line, which became, from the end of this decade, the central element of his work. Using this elementary visual vocabulary drawn from mathematics, Venet developed a combinatorial art that explores the dialectics of order and chaos. The result is a body of work with real aesthetic qualities, which remains autonomous in relation to the space it occupies, and which imposes a powerful physical presence on the viewer.
In the field of sculpture, Venet chose steel, a material that was sober, rigid, difficult to work with, and engaged in a genuine test of strength. The models bear witness to the artist’s physical commitment to the creative process, seeking to impose his domination on the metal by cutting the material with a torch to better twist, bend, and coil it. On paper, the artist’s favourite medium from the outset for the freedom and ease of action it offers, Venet uses oil sticks, charcoal and acrylic, all dark and sober materials that have become his signature, and which allow him to explore the many possible combinations of straight, curved, broken and random lines.
From the 1980s, his monumental sculptures began to conquer urban spaces around the world, from the Palace of Versailles (2011), to the A4 motorway in Belgium, to the Gibbs Farm Makarau in New Zealand. This minimalist gigantism became his signature and paved the way for international recognition. Bernar Venet’s works are present in a hundred museums around the world and more than thirty international cities such as London, Geneva, Paris, Nice and Seoul permanently display the sculptures of this tremendous French artist in their public spaces.