VALENCIA.- Born in 1941 in Saint-Auban in the south of France, Bernar Venet's attraction to art became evident at an early age. At 17, Venet moved to Nice and worked as a theatre set designer at the Opéra de Nice. He started his art career as a painter in the early 1960s alongside other French artists of the Nouveau Réalisme movement.
The 1960s found him in search of the "neutral" through abstract, self-referential creations that only expressed their own objective reality - mathematical, technical, concrete, industrial. Witness his Pile of Coal (1963), the Tar paintings and the Cardboard Reliefs (1963-65), the short film entitled Asphalt (1963), or the "nonvisual" artworks on magnetic tape (1967)... These are works of art whose actual production in some cases the artist relegated to others and which he had no wish to see once they were finished, so that they would exist purely, for themselves, outside of any and all subjectivity on the artist's part.
In 1963, Venet removed the "d" from the end of this first name (Bernard to Bernar) to align it more closely with the word noir (black) in French and thus be in accordance with the black that dominated his works at the time, which were based on coal and tar. Despite exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris and the first signs that his work was winning some recognition, Bernar was "starving" and not in any figurative sense of the word. He had no choice. For him, survival meant exile in New York, where Arman provided him with a place to stay in his studio apartment, the former workspace of Tinguely. "Not to be living in New York was to be out of the running. Everything was going on there. I met people who stimulated my imagination. There was such a concentration of artists, galleries, collectors; I had to go there and live in order to size things up and understand the artist's condition. In that milieu I learned discipline and to be exacting." New York was also an accelerator. At the end of five years, Venet was the subject of a retrospective.
Venet was bent on countering American abstract expressionism, led by Pollock and his emotional drip painting or Rothko and his search for spirituality. But neither did the Frenchman, an immigrant in New York, recognize himself in the European lyrical abstraction of Mathieu or Hartung. In 1966, the arc shape first appeared in his work, not as a deliberate gesture, but rather as the result of mathematical functions (The Straight Line D' Represents the Function y=2x+1).
In Venet's work, the essence of art is indeed the concept. But a concept that has taken on a certain humanity and metaphysicality over the years. In 1970, Venet stopped creating for theoretical reasons. He had reached a limit in his exploration of the neutral. He decided to give up art once and for all. He had even planned this withdrawal, four years prior to that
After carrying out the final project that remained for him to do (artworks destroyed in his absence), he put an end to his activity as an artist on 31 December 1970, to be precise. What did Venet do? He taught, and he taught himself. "I had a BEPC degree [general certificate of secondary school studies] and I started in on reading semiology and philosophy. I built up intellectual tools that allowed me to criticize my own work." During this process of calling himself and his work into question, the visceral need for art began to surface once again. "Art is my life," Venet admitted, defeated, resigned and happy all at once.
It was ten years later that the motif of the line, in all its shapes (curve, straight, angle), came into its own and became the main subject of his art, continuing to fuel his work today. It was at this time that the artist took leave of the domain of neutrality. "I came back to my works," Venet admits, in the sense that the line allowed him to raise the fundamental question of the presence of human rationality in a world that is nothing but chaos. These two complementary realities came into conflict, and into action, when Venet began doing his Accidents and, with a single push of his hands, would topple like dominoes fifteen tons of metal bars leaning against a wall. Line, an elementary concept, tells us everything about the totality of the world. It is no stylistic device, the artist insists. Venet struggles against style. "When I create artworks I don't create a self-portrait," he says, still stamped by his initial demand for neutrality. Style is a procedure, a brand that is reproduced in order to respond to the demands of the market.
By the end of the 1970s, his formal development led him to sculpture. 1979 in particular marked a turning point in Venet's career, when he began a series of wood reliefs, Arcs, Angles, Straight Lines, and created the first of his Indeterminate Lines. That same year, he was awarded a grant by the National Endowment for the Arts.
In 1994, Jacques Chirac, then the Mayor of Paris, invited Venet to present twelve sculptures from his Indeterminate Line series on the Champs de Mars, which afterwards developed into a world tour in Asia, Europe, South and North America. This international traveling sculpture exhibition continues to tour with its most recent venues being Houston, Texas; Auckland, New Zealand; Hong Kong and Marseille in the summer of 2013. To date, the number of Venet's solo exhibitions amounts to no less than 250. His work can be found in more than 70 museums worldwide, including such notable institutions as The Museum of Modern Art (New York), The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York), the Centre Pompidou (Paris), and the Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles, California). In 2008, Sotheby's invited Venet to present twenty-five large-scale sculptures on the grounds of Isleworth Country Club, near Orlando, Florida, their first venture to exhibit and support a single sculptor on this scale. Recent retrospectives of Venet's works were mounted at the Museum Küppersmühle für Moderne Kunst in Duisburg, Germany; Institut d'Art Moderne (IVAM) in Valencia, Spain; Seoul Museum of Art (SOMA) in Seoul, Korea; Hôtel des Arts, Toulon, France and Mücsarnok Kunsthalle in Budapest, Hungary. Bernar Venet has also received commissions for sculptures permanently installed in Auckland, Austin, Bergen, Berlin, Denver, Geneva, Neu-Ulm, Nice, Norfolk, Paris, San Francisco, Seoul, Shenzhen, Strasbourg, Tokyo, Toulouse, and most recently at the Gibbs Farm in New Zealand. In the summer of 2011, Bernar Venet unveiled his monumental sculptures in a solo exhibition at the world-renowned Château de Versailles in France, becoming only the fourth contemporary artist to be given the honor.
For forty years now, the multifaceted, internationally recognized artist Bernar Venet has produced sculpture, as well as painting, poetry, film, performance, furniture and sound compositions. Numerous monographs and surveys of his work have been published in multiple languages including French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Hungarian, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean by such noted art historians as Barbara Rose, Donald Kuspit, Carter Ratcliff, Thomas McEvilley, Catherine Millet and Achille Bonito Oliva, among others. Venet has participated in major art events such as Documenta in 1977 as well as the Biennales of Paris, São Paulo, and Venice. Last year a biographical entry on Venet was added to the June 2012 edition of the Dictionnaire Larousse. Venet is a member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts and has also been the recipient of several distinguishing honors such as France's Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres and Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur, and will be the 2013 recipient of IVAM's prestigious international Julio González Prize.
The international Julio González Prize was established by decree of the Valencian Government in 2000 to honor individuals for their extensive experience to stand out in the international artistic creation. The award is especially significant as it is delivered sculpture: an edition of a figure of Julio González 'Woman with Amphora II', cast in bronze with silver patina from a model and worked hand-cut property IVAM.
Among those recognized with this distinction of the Valencian include: Georg Baselitz, Cy Twombly, Eduardo Chillida, Anish Kapoor Markus Lüpertz , Robert Rauschenberg, Anthony Caro, Miquel Navarro, Pierre Soulages, Frank Stella, Jasper Johns and Robert Morris.