Bernar Venet @ Art Plural Gallery, Singapore

French artist Bernar Venet has just opened a varied and surprising exhibition at Ar Plural Gallery which is an eye opener for those who mainly associate him with the arc sculptures (as seen most recently in Versailles).

For this exhibition, Venet is presenting his most recent sculptural reliefs from his GRIB series, as well as numerous paintings of mathematical equations from his Saturations and Shaped Canvases series..

For this exhibition you’re showing the sculptural reliefs from your very recent GRIB series. They seem to be quite a departure from your usual sculptures?
Actually, they are an extension of a series of works I did in graphite on wood in the early 1980s, called “Indeterminate Lines.” These wooden sculptural reliefs are what led me to sculpture in the first place. I had completely stopped doing them, but in the last couple of years I’ve revisited the idea of those lines, but in a freer version. I call them GRIBS, because it really comes from the French “gribouillage” which means scribble. With my “Indeterminate Lines,” the lines were quite clean and came from an instinctive gesture. With the GRIBS, the lines are more complex, uncontrolled, spontaneous. I work first on paper and maybe will do as many 200-300 sketches, and then select only a few. I like to destroy as much as I like to create. We make mistakes. It’s like being a writer: not all the lines are necessarily good and sometimes you’ll cut a page or two. For me, what’s important is to choose the ones that don’t look like works of art. All my activity, all the time, has been trying to do something that doesn’t look like a work of art that was done before.
 So the more scribbling, the better?
Exactly, but it shouldn’t be a scribble that looks like Jackson Pollock. Otherwise I’m not going to do it.
How many have you done now?
Probably about 25.

Is it something you want to continue to explore?
Yes, I will, but only if I find new solutions otherwise it’s not worth exploring. Sometimes I stop for two months, like I’ve just done, and then I restart. It’s funny how when it’s done it looks obvious, but it’s very strange how difficult it is to find a new proposition. It’s difficult to invent all the time.

 The other highlight of this exhibition is the selection of Saturations and Shaped Canvases that comprise mathematical formulas. Had you continued painting all these years?
No, I’d stopped in 1979 when I started doing the Indeterminate Lines in wood, and then went into sculpture, putting all my energy and activity into that. It was only in 2000 that, one day, being bored by my environment, I wanted to make a change and I decided I was going to put something on my wall that was not a work of art but a mathematical equation I’d done in 1967-1968. That was difficult, because art is too easy and too boring. I painted my wall in yellow with a black equation and then I realized how fresh that was. I decided to do more and fortunately that year I had several exhibitions in museums and I decided to present something similar, painting those walls in color and then add huge mathematical equations. From that I moved onto canvas.
 How has this series evolved then?
The first ones were very simple mathematical equations that you could read if you understood mathematics. What I found interesting is that if you can read the equation, that painting then doesn’t look like an abstract painting, but although it doesn’t look like an abstract painting, it still has the highest level of abstraction that a work of art can present. It’s more abstract than an abstract painting because there is nothing more abstract than a mathematical equation! So it’s a new direction for abstraction in a way and that, theoretically, is interesting. Visually it is also totally different from anything you have seen in art.

The mathematical works here are actually very busy in terms of formulas?
Yes, I call them Saturation paintings. Not only is it difficult to read, but now I’m putting equations on top of equations and making the situation even more confusing for anybody to read. It’s a little more aesthetic too.
The colors are rich copper and gold? Do they have a meaning? Is it an allusion or link to your sculptures?
What I’m trying to do is go far away from what artists do in general. You don’t use gold so much. All these equations come from Kurt Gödel, who was the most intelligent and most abstract mind that ever existed on earth, and knowing that, to me, it’s a bit like the word of God. So painting these equations in gold, they become icons, like the ones you see in Russia, that you look at with great respect. And when I use shaped canvases, which is what I’m doing now, they recall the oriole of the Saints. We are in the sublime.
Why this fascination with mathematics?
First of all, I don’t understand mathematics. But you don’t need to understand a discipline in order to use it for a different purpose. Do you think Cezanne was an expert in botany when he was painting trees and fruit?

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