Bernar Venet

These large framed drawings from 1989 (all around 98 by 117 inches) invite the viewer to consider them as paintings. Like Bernar Venet’s previous drawings, however, they are actually the result of photographically transferring the artist’s sculptures onto paper, and then reworking their outlines with oil stick. The photographic framing of the sculpture elicits an interpretive reading of the object, a reading that varies according to the angle of vision; the same sculpture can give rise to several drawings.

Interpretation and indetermination might be considered the key concepts behind this exhibition. The drawings, Ligne indéterminée (Indeterminate line, all works 1989) and Double ligne indéterminée (Double indeterminate line), are based on sculptures that are themselves entitled “Lignes indéterminée.” Venet continues the work on the line he initiated in 1976, after his break with Conceptual art. Broken lines in the series “Positions d’angles” (Positions of angles, 1978-79), curved lines in “Positions d’arcs” (Positions of arcs, 1978-79), straight lines in “Cordes sous-tenant des arcs de cercle” (Cords subtending the arcs of the circle, 1977), and free, haphazard lines, in “Lignes indéterminées,” provided the basis for wood reliefs and steel sculptures as well as for these drawings. Could it be that line for Venet is a path to knowledge? (Here one thinks of the enlarged reproductions of the pages of scientific books that he produced at the end of his Conceptual period.) The countermovement (curve, loop, volute, spiral), this baroque quality of the indeterminate line, is increasingly emphasized in Venet’s work, and particularly in his drawings, where the black and copper-red oil stick create a play of shadow and light, giving the works a pictorial dimension. The grounds are a pale mat gray, punctuated by oil-stick traces—signs of the hand. The lines are imbued with an ample sense of dynamic movement, and their powerful physicality releases an intense charge of energy. The two ends of the line in Ligne indéterminée are clearly visible, but in Double ligne indéterminée only three out of four can be identified. The fourth is hidden behind the oil-stick traces as though the practice of drawing, or the picture itself, had necessitated this retreat, this passage behind the visible into an unknown space.

Has the notion of the monosemic content to which Venet adhered for many years disappeared completely from these chance forms in motion, which are open to pansemic interpretation? Whereas in the sculpture the indeterminate line or the arc of the circle appears as just that, the drawings are interpretations of the object, of the real. They are a matter of representation. In the end, perhaps, illusionism is the most valuable achievement of art. From the use of the object to conceptual algebraic diagrams, from geometric schemes in planar space to their concretization in three dimensions, from abstract sculptures to their expressive articulation in drawing, Venet’s itinerary is subtended by an exemplary reflection on the deep gulf between the real and its representation.

Anne Dagbert

Translated from the French by Hanna Hannah.