Numeral Strokes

French conceptual artist Bernar Venet

Applying mathematics and science to his sculptures, French conceptual artist Bernar Venet created the Arc, GRIB, Angle and Indeterminate Line series, which are an extension of works he developed in 1979. His first solo exhibition in Dubai at the Custot Gallery in Alserkal Avenue has installations such as the monumental Cor-Ten steel Arc sculpture, which stands at 6.5 meters high. This sculpture was among the ‘World Meet Here’ opening exhibition at Custot Gallery in March, a group show of international postwar and contemporary art featuring painters Chu Teh-Chun, Zao Wou-Ki, sculptors Marc Quinn, Pablo Reinoso and Venet among others.

Bernar Venet was born in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, France in 1941. In 1958 he studied at the Villa Thiole, the municipal art school of Nice and the following year he was employed as a stage designer for the Nice City Opera. While completing national military service, between 1961-63, Venet began his artistic career when he coated canvas with tar and exhibited a mere pile of coal as a sculpture. Moving to New York in 1966, his meetings with minimalist artists Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, Carl Andre, and Dan Flavin led him to begin creating wide-ranging conceptual works including painting, poetry and performance. In 1971 he was honored with his first retrospective at the New York Cultural Center and decided, for theoretical reasons, to cease all artistic activities. Venet returned to Paris during this period to teach ‘Art and Art Theory’ at the Sorbonne. He resumed his artistic career in 1976 on his return to New York.

The year 1979 marked a turning point in Venet’s artistic production, when he began a series of wood reliefs Angles, Arcs, Diagonals, and created the first of his Indeterminate Lines. He has since been commissioned to create monumental sculptures that are permanently installed in cities such as Berlin, San Francisco, Nice, Tokyo, Beijing, Cologne and Paris. In 2011 he exhibited seven monumental sculptures in the grounds of the Château de Versailles. For the 2013 Venice Biennale, Venet presented new Shaped Canvases from the Saturation series dedicated to one of the founders of modern mathematics.

Among the works being showcased at the Dubai exhibition is an acrylic on canvas, Homage to Al-Khawarizmi n°2, part of the series presented at the 2013 Venice Biennale. It pays homage to Al-Khawarizmi, author of the Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing, dating from the IXth century, and considered to be the inventor of algebra. “Born in 783 in Khiva in Khwarezm, Al-Khawarizmi died in Baghdad around 850. He wrote many works, including a short text around 820 on arithmetic in which he explained the use of the new Indian numerals and positional notation, perfectly understanding and advancing the use of zero. The name of this famous scholar was translated into Latin and eventually gave us the term algorithm. He stands at the source of our modern method of calculation involving nine numerals and zero…It is also an homage to an Arab culture of extraordinary depth and breadth that inspired and influenced the West throughout this period”, says Venet.

Presented in the unusually designed gallery, with expansive nine-metre-high ceilings, from Brussels-based architect Francoise Marcq, Venet’s solo exhibition is among the line-up of artistic events that aims to showcase a perspective on modern and contemporary artistic creation internationally. “This curatorial calendar will be an opportunity to present works in an open dialogue between East and West. To attract appreciation of these artists’ works in Dubai is an ambitious plan, an interesting challenge and a source of great joy,” says gallerist Stéphane Custot.

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