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A Monumental Sculpture by French Artist Bernar Venet at the Versailles Palace
A monumental sculpture of the french artist Bernar Venet is displayed in front of the Versailles Palace, west of Paris. Venet is an internationally recognized painter, sculptor, and composer of concrete music. The event runs from June 1st to November 1st, 2011. AP Photo Bob Edme.

PARIS.- Bernar Venet is the Palace of Versailles’s guest in 2011. He is taking over from Takashi Murakami who, as we know, attracted considerable interest and sizeable crowds in 2010. The exhibition is on view from June 1st through November 1st, 2011.

The Palace of Versailles chose Bernar Venet to showcase a French artist’s meticulous, intense efforts to probe the question about the relationships between art, landscapes and architecture, and therefore between art, time and history. It is also the first time that this institution has decided to display an annual contemporary art exhibition work of art in the Marly Estate, which it is now responsible for.

I am all the more delighted as my friendly respect for Bernar Venet goes back a very long way. He is relentlessly tearing down his own work and starting again. And – something I find absolutely remarkable –, can look at other artists’ works with caring, insightful eyes. - Jean-Jacques Aillagon, Former Minister, Etablissement Public du Musée et du Domaine National de Versailles President

I was excited when Jean-Jacques Aillagon asked me to take over the Palace of Versailles for two reasons: because it was an amazing backdrop for my sculptures, and because it was an amazing opportunity to capture my conception of space. I found Versailles fascinating even before they started organising contemporary art exhibitions. I made my own photomontages, overlaying my sculptures and the Chateau de Versailles backdrops, long before the Jeff Koons exhibition. I kept that project secret, along with several other “perfect views” for my work. During the Versailles heyday, those projects would have been called “caprices”. The only difference is that, in my case, they were sculptural rather than architectural “caprices”.

Versailles, as I see it, is all about wide open spaces and perspectives that stretch as far as the eye can see. It is the perfect venue for my sculptures – and a real challenge to take on such a sublime, grandiose milieu. My Arcs have to blend in without fading away in the backdrop. So I have to accommodate several variables. That was why I decided to tailor new sculptures to the area’s topology and scale. It was clear at the start that my sculptures would not be on show inside the Château, as they would unleash their full potential in the paths across Le Notre’s gardens. I am thinking about the sunrises and sunsets, and the golden light that steeps the Corten steel in red and brown hints.

The curves on my sculptures will contrast with the angular geometry in the gardens, and espouse the circular edges around the Basin d’Apollon and Grand Canal. - Bernar Venet

When he was doing his military service in Tarascon (in Southern France), in 1961, Bernar Venet delivered a performance lying nestled in refuse. That was the first work he laid claim to. More than 50 years down the road, this artist is taking over the Palace of Versailles court of honour and gardens with his Corten steel Arcs, Lignes Indéterminées and Effondrements (“collapses”). The book published for this exhibition tells this protean artist’s visual story, the story about his path from conceptual art to public art, and the story about how his paintings, installations, performance, monumental sculptures and even writing have made a lasting mark on the contemporary aesthetic landscape.

The essay by artist and art critic Brian O’Doherty in the catalogue published for this exhibition focuses on Bernar Venet’s contribution to the big issues that art and sculpture are grappling with today. Bernard Marcadé’s starlit, polyphonic article provides perspective on a singular artist who is exacting and rigorous, and yet wholeheartedly embraces formal freedom. - Bernard Marcadé, Exhibition curator


85.8° Arc x 16 – Place d’Armes
This first sculpture is not confined to the Château: it is also a gift for the town, as it enhances the perspective from Avenue de Paris. It was created specifically for this spot, and provides two angles. First, it encircles Louis XIV’s equestrian statue – and overhangs it. Then it opens up a new perspective: it frames the chateau it towers over. It is something of an interlude, a decompression chamber. And it intertwines two scales: an amplified human scale (the Louis XIV statue) and a monumental scale (Mansart’s architecture). The arcs stand 22 high between them.

5 Groupes d’Arcs, 214.5°, 215.5°, 216.5°, 217.5°, 218.5° – The Parterre of the South
This is the most literal expression of Bernar Venet’s Arcs. They almost interlock into a circle. The full shape is a prism that underlines the perspective and shifts the view, stretching towards the four cardinal points.

Trois Lignes Indéterminées – The Parterre of the South
This sculpture points towards the Château, underscoring the North-South axis, and unfurling across the Parterre du Midi over the Orangerie, capturing the perspective to the Pièce d’Eau des Suisses.

219.5° Arc x 28 – Water Garden
These arcs facing the Château lean over the Parterre d’Eau, and face viewers with an eminently material feel. They seem to bend over them – and their undiluted dimensions also overhangs visitors.

Effondrement: 225.5° Arc x 16 – Apollo Bassin
These slim arcs between the Bassin d’Apollon and Grand Canal bow and collapse following no particular rules besides haphazard balance and gravity.

219.5° Arcs x 13 – Bassin du Fer du Cheval
These two clusters of arcs mirror the Parterre d’Eau and underscore the end of the secondary arm of the Grand Canal, in front of the Bassin du Fer à Cheval at the foot of the Trianon.

Lignes Verticales – Marly Estate
Bernar Venet’s lignes verticales spring from the gardens that once nestled the château that Jules-Hardouin Mansart build for Louis XIV’s leisure, replacing a building that is no longer there.

Bernar Venet’s career began in 1961 when he coated canvas with tar and exhibited mere mounds of coal as sculptures. The French artistic scene’s lading lights – Arman, César, Jacques Villeglé, etc. – promptly encouraged this avant-garde artist to take it further.

He moved to New York in 1966, discovered minimal art there, and continued experimenting with tubing blueprints, reproducing scientific drawings solely to distil the evocative, meaningful views. The neutral images were stripped from any artistic addition and devoid of the artist’s subjective eyes. He exhibited alongside the day’s minimal and conceptual art top names – Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, etc. – in Dwan, Paula Cooper and other galleries. He hones a 4-year programme to delve in the various branches of science, and decided to end his artistic career at the end of that period.

That period ended in 1971 and Bernar Venet started working on retrospectives on his work and speaking around the world (including a lecture cycle at the Sorbonne). When he resumed his artistic career again in 1976, he picked up the mathematical formulae again, and his paintings and sculptures took a formalist turn. He distilled the notion that randomness is mathematical into a series of lignes indéterminées sculptures, “doodling” them to no particular aesthetic agenda or predefined pattern. Then he moved on to sculptures comprising arcs providing depths to the various angles, which define and compose them. There is something strikingly material about Bernar Venet’s Corten steel arcs, and they provide meaning for their surroundings. The line variants – arcs, tilting arcs, vertical arcs, collapses, etc. – add up to Venet’s vocabulary to broach the issues that sculpture has to deal with, i.e. the relationship with the body, balance, setting and so on.

He made the mainstream with exhibitions featuring his sculptures around the world (inter alia in Paris). In Versailles, he will be baking over the eminently classical and distinctly geometrical Palace gardens, which radiate the rules of perspective. He is fully aware of this symbolic aura enveloping this place, and set out to underscore the lines, capture the coherence, and cast a new light on it – on occasion using contrast, i.e. a overlapping a collapsing view and the exactly drawn lines (for example, something that looks like a wreck, not lacking in form yet deliberately anti-formal, between the Bassin d’Apollon and the Grand Canal, enthroned in the par-excellence architectural gem that is Versailles). Bernar Venet was born in 1941 in Château-Arnoux Saint-Auban, in the Alpes de Haute Provence (France). He lives and works in New York and Hungary.

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