Contemporary Art

M WOODS’ Michael Xufu Huang on Bernar Venet

By Michael Xufu Huang

A somewhat precocious youth, I first discovered Bernar Venet’s work in high school, skimming through images of Gibbs Farm online. Completed in 2012, 88.5° ARC x 8 at New Zealand’s renown sculpture park is one of Venet’s typical vertical arc compositions, one which he also visited at the Palace of Versaille in 2011. At twenty-seven meters tall, its deceptive simplicity thrown against the stark landscape of Kaipara Harbour convinced me of something sublime in Euclid and the principles of geometry.

Opening view Bernar Venet, rétrospective 2019-1959, September 21, 2018 to January 6, 2019 at macLYON © photo : Blaise Adilon. ©Adagp, Paris

Later I learned of his proximity to several of the greatest artistic minds in the late-twentieth century who were his friends when he lived in New York in the 60’s — Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Carl Andre and Robert Morris — and the shift that occurred in his practice in 1966 when he first began experimenting with mathematical models in the form of canvas cum blueprint. Inspired by the pared-down expressive forms of Minimalism, as well as contemporary French linguistic theory, Venet held the conviction that through an extension of mathematics into the realm of art—or vice versa—one could achieve a truly universal aesthetic. Lines, arcs and angles became the building blocks of his distinct visual language. Open to all possibilities, Venet continues to challenge himself, refusing the restrictions of any one medium, yet his singular pursuit of the idea embodied in a work remains unchanged.

Opening view Bernar Venet, rétrospective 2019-1959, September 21, 2018 to January 6, 2019 at macLYON © photo : Blaise Adilon. ©Adagp, Paris

Last year at the invitation of my close friends at de Sarthe, I had the opportunity to meet Venet at his foundation in the south of France—the Venet Foundation is housed in an abandoned factory and fifteenth century watermill occupying five hectares of land. I wondered what to expect of a man whose sculptures and paintings could appear so sober and brutal. Soon enough, I was swept away on a golf cart tour of the grounds, listening to this James Bond–like figure recall anecdotes of Man Ray, Christo, Roy Lichtenstein, Marcel Duchamp, Richard Serra and a number of other artist friends that filled his collection. It was unlike any studio visit I had ever taken. He shared plans for his most ambitious work to date, to be unveiled in Belgium between Namur and Arlon later this year, but Venet wasn’t interested in talking solely about himself as much as about the people and places that drove him to keep producing work. We both recognized that artists and patrons alike shared the creative impulse to collect.

The Straight Line and Its Trace, May 31, 2004, Performance, Musée d’Art modern et d’Art contemporain, Nice, France
Photo credit: Muriel Anssens, Nice, France

As Venet describes it, his performance of The Steel Bar and the Pictorial Memory of the Gesture combines the mediums of performance, sculpture and painting. The bar becomes an object-tool, and the trace painted on the wall leaves testimony of the successive movements of his body. The significance of this development in Venet’s career is further foregrounded by another event. Recent news of the second recorded instance of HIV remission has given hope to scores of people around world. Bernar and de Sarthe’s gesture of donating the proceeds from the sale of The Steel Bar… to amfAR makes the work, for me, all the more meaningful.

Michael Xufu Huang
Collector, Curator, Co-founder M WOODS

Live Artist’s Performance by Bernar Venet
Friday 29 March 7pm (By Invitation Only)
Sotheby’s Hong Kong Spring Sales Opening Reception
Artwork to be sold in the Contemporary Art Evening Sale 1 April

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