Thanks to the curator Thierry Raspail (former director of the museum and the Lyon’s Biennale), MAC Lyon is presenting the most extensive retrospective ever devoted to Bernar Venet, going back over his 60 years of making art and including the initial performances, drawings, diagrams, and paintings, as well as photographs, sound pieces, films, and sculptures, to encompass the breadth, complexity, and poetry of the artist’s wide-ranging output.
This is the most ambitious retrospective ever devoted to the artist. It aims to examine the different stages that led a certain young artist, of twenty years of age, at the beginning of the 1960s to seek to “remove any form of expression contained in the artwork in order to reduce it to a material fact”. He then went on to appropriate astrophysics, nuclear physics and mathematical logic, and took a break of 5 years before finally returning, albeit unexpectedly, to his easel. These paintings were followed by sound works, poetry, and later by indeterminate lines, accidents, random combinations, and dispersions, culminating in the indefinite and curved lines of the monumental sculptures in Corten steel, dedicated to the urban space.
But this retrospective also aims to show how reason and intuition have continuously and simultaneously converged in Bernar Venet, making his artwork, which feeds on instability, imbalance, entropy, unpredictability, uncertainty, turbulence, chance and incompleteness, a universe with forms that are as clear as they are poetic.
Bernar Venet operates by means of signs. He wants these signs to be precise and exact in such a way that they are transparent to their own form. “Thinking is essentially the activity of operating with signs”, wrote L. Wittgenstein in The Blue Book, adding: “If again we talk about the locality where thinking takes place, we have a right to say that this locality is the piece of paper on which we write or the mouth which speaks”.
In France Bernar Venet’s protean work remains little known today, partly because it is partially exhibited, in certain ‘periods’ or selected in terms of a specific medium (his works made using tar, and steel sculptures, etc.). Today, it deserves to be seen in its entirety so that the public can gain an insight into the scale, ambition, complexity, poetry and simplicity of his work.
This exhibition covers 60 years of artistic creation. It is spread over three floors of the Museum and is best visited from the ground to the top floor, according to a reversed chronological order. This is the reason why the retrospective is called Bernar Venet 2019–1959. The artworks have been prima- rily chosen from the artist’s personal collection, but are complemented with various works on loan from private and public collections in the US and Europe.
“I was convinced that art was not made for pleasure but for knowledge. This removal of pleasure came from a Puritan desire and seemed to correspond to a serious, even a sombre form of nature. […] Artifice, colour, and the spectacular all seemed childish to me.”
Photo: Bernar Venet and his Effondrement : 200 tonnes, Le Muy, 2017, Photo credit: Gérard Schachmes, Paris
Courtesy Archives Bernar Venet New York