Assembly 2: Bernar Venet

Bernar Venet

Indeterminate Hypothesis continues the artist’s lifelong, process-based investigation into the mathematical and philosophical implications of the line. A contemporary of Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, and Sol LeWitt, Venet has concentrated his artistic practice on the complex relationship between an object’s conceptual framework and its materiality for over six decades. 

The five abstract Indeterminate Lines consist of spiraling rolls of steel that sit, balanced or stacked in novel compositions, on the gallery floor. As well as manifesting the concept of the line as an object—playful, antic, and unpredictable—the series from which these works emerge explores and demonstrates the limits of material resistance. Venet’s physical manipulation of raw bars of steel into unscripted configurations of between one and six elements demands gargantuan effort and reveals the relationship between artist and material as both a collaboration and a battle of will. The resulting configurations of tightly wound, inextricable loops of industrial material “open a doorway to fundamental principles such as indeterminacy, chance, accident, unpredictability, chaos and, even, incompleteness,” says the artist.

Bernar Venet first gained recognition in the 1960s for the development of his Tar Paintings, Cardboard Reliefs, and his iconic Pile of Coal, the first sculpture without a specific shape. The year 1979 marked a significant turning point in Venet’s career: having recently begun a series of wood reliefs—Arcs, Angles, and Straight Lines—he created the first of his Indeterminate Lines and was awarded a grant by the National Endowment for the Arts. 

With 9 Acute Unequal Angles, Venet persists in his argument and went so far as to assert that science and mathematics were to become the content of his work. Drawing a straight line was not interpretive. It was not a lyrical expression about surface space. For Venet, it was more about the line itself. The artist’s recent large-scale steel angles seem consistent with arcs in that they are arranged in groups, often close together, with random spatial intervals, almost always with the same number of degrees within the acute angle as within the circumference of a circle. One could say that this has always been the question Venet has sought in his work, even as the question perpetually moves through various angles of vision.