Focus on Bernar Venet


As preparations for the new art world calendar (September – June, at least in the northern hemisphere) start to emerge, one of the most interesting upcoming cultural events in France is a Bernar Venet retrospective to open on 21 September at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Lyon.

The Lyon Museum of Contemporary Art has announced the most comprehensive retrospective ever organised (more than 170 works) for this major artist who has earned international recognition as a sculptor, but whose work has pursued numerous areas of research and expression. Indeed, Venet traversed a large number of artistic phases, starting with painting and moving on to “sound works, poetry and later indeterminate lines, accidents, random combinations, and dispersions, culminating in the indefinite and curved lines of the monumental sculptures in Corten steel, dedicated to the urban space”. As of October, Venet will also be the subject of a solo show in Nice (Bernar Venet, the Conceptual Years, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nice, 13 October 2018 – 13 January 2019). We take a quick overview of his global career and his buoyant market.

From minimal to monumental

As of the late 1960s, Bernar VENET became interested in scientific developments and particularly research conducted at the Department of Nuclear Physics at Columbia University in New York in 1967. A decade later, in the 1970s, he began producing the conceptual works for which he is best known outside France. These works, focusing on line variations and arcs, formed the basis of an aesthetic nourished by random mathematical investigations and chaos… the degree of an angle or the radius of a curve determining the shape and number of the elements in his compositions, often expressed in the form of monumental sculptures in Corten steel. Since the early 80s when Venet created his first monumental sculptures using hundreds of kilos of steel, Venet has installed his works all over the world: Norfolk, Austin, Denver, Berlin, Paris, Stuttgart, Bordeaux, Tokyo, San Francisco, among others. Installations that speak to us of equilibrium, control, order and disorder, as well as limits and excessiveness. A strong example of this is his Arc Majeur 185.4° project for a structure measuring 75 metres in diameter whose highest arc should reach 60 metres high, forming the tallest sculpture in the world.

His market

Born in the South of France, Bernar Venet today enjoys a global reputation and is one of the France’s most expensive living artists on the global market. With American collectors increasingly attracted to his work, his market is in good shape. Nowadays, 39% of his annual auction turnover is generated in the United States (versus 34% in France) up 20 points in less than 10 years. The French market turns over a greater volume (56% of lots sold in France versus 15% in the US), but his major works are primarily sold in New York. Switzerland (10% of turnover) and the United Kingdom (8%) also make significant contributions to his market.

His best auction result was hammered in Doha (Qatar) in 2009 for a major sculpture, Four indeterminate lines, which fetched $722,500 (Sotheby’s Doha, 18 March 2009). More recently, Venet recorded his US record of $420,500 for a work entitled 228.5º Arc X 5 (1999) at Sotheby’s New York (19 May 2017). His Swiss peak stands at $341,000 for Indeterminate line; (1995) that sold for $341,000 (excluding fees) at the Kornfeld Gallery in Bern on 15 June 2018.

Driven by international demand, Venet’s price index has posted a 305% increase since the year 2000, so that $100 invested in one of his works back then is worth an average of $405 today.

His Foundation

Created in 2014 on an exceptional 5-hectare site in Provence, the Bernar Venet Foundation keeps the artist’s vast collection of minimal and conceptual art. Works by other artists that Bernar Venet acquired for relatively low prices as a young artist in New York rub shoulders with his own creations. They include pieces by Donald JUDD, Dan FLAVIN, Carl ANDRE, Richard LONG, Sol LEWITT, and Robert MORRIS. This summer, the Foundation participated in celebrations marking the 90th anniversary of the birth of Yves KLEIN with a superb exhibition, Yves Klein – Pure Pigment (open until 14 September 2018) consisting of Yves Klein Blue pigment covering the Foundation’s 200 square metres of available floor space. In fact, Bernar Venet is not only a coveted artist…he is today an important and active player on the French cultural scene.