Born in 1941 in the south of France, Venet’s attraction to art became evident at an early age. He discovered the work of historical artists through art books that his mother bought him. At 17, Venet moved to Nice to work as a theatre set designer at the Opéra de Nice before dedicating his entire activity to making art. In 1966, Venet established himself in New York where, over the course of the next five decades, he explored painting, poetry, film, and performance. He was particularly attracted to science and its codes as a subject for art. During the 1960s, Venet developed his Tar paintings, Relief Cartons, and his iconic Tas de charbon (Pile of Coal), the first sculpture without a specific shape. 1979 marked a turning point in Venet’s career, when he began a series of wood reliefs, “Arcs”, “Angles”, “Straight Lines”, and created the first of his Indeterminate Lines. That same year, he was awarded a grant by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Venet’s career has been marked by a celebrated series of milestones. In 1994, the then Mayor of Paris Jacques Chirac invited Venet to present twelve sculptures from his Indeterminate Line series on the Champ de Mars. Following the installation’s success, a world tour ensued. To celebrate the establishment’s bicentennial in 2007, Bernar Venet was chosen by the French Ministry of Culture to paint the ceiling of the Galerie Philippe Séguin located in the Cour des Comptes in Paris, France. In 2008, Sotheby’s invited Venet to present 25 large sculptures on the grounds of the Isleworth Country Club, Florida, marking the first time they had exhibited a single artist at the venue. In May of 2010, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France inaugurated a 30-meter tall sculpture to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Nice’s reunification with France. Bernar Venet became only the 4th contemporary artist to be offered the grounds of the world-renowned Château de Versailles in France for a solo exhibition of monumental sculptures in 2011. The French Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp of his 22-meter Vertical Arcs framing the iconic statue of Louis XIV at the entrance. In October 2019, his Arc Majeur of nearly 200 feet was inaugurated in Belgium, on highway E411 between Namur and Luxembourg. It has been praised as Europe’s ‘largest public artwork.’
Venet had his first retrospective at the Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld in 1970, followed by the New York Cultural Center in 1971. Contributions to major art events such as the Kassel Documenta VI in 1977, and the Biennales of Paris, Venice, and São Paulo, followed. Venet has presented major retrospective exhibitions at the Museum Küppersmühle für Moderne Kunst, Duisburg Germany; the Busan Museum of Modern Art, South Korea; the Institut d’Art Valencià Moderne (IVAM), Valencia, Spain; the Mücsarnok Museum, Budapest, Hungary, and most recently in France at the Musée d’art moderne et contemporain (MAMAC), Nice, at the Musée d’art contemporain (mac), Lyon, as well as his largest retrospective to date at Kunsthalle Berlin, at Tempelhof in 2022. Important return to the Parisian scene with an exhibition in all three of Perrotin’s gallery spaces, and a double installation on Place Vendôme.
More than 200 monographs in multiple languages have been published on the artist’s œuvre, with texts by noted art historians Thierry de Duve, Olivier Schefer, Barry Schwabsky, RoseLee Goldberg, Barbara Rose, Donald Kuspit, Carter Ratcliff, Thomas McEvilley, Jan van der Marck, Thierry Lenain, and Achille Bonito Oliva, among others. His work can be found in more than 70 museums worldwide, including such venerable institutions as The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg; and Musée d’Art moderne et contemporain (MAMCO), Geneva. Bernar Venet has also received commissions for sculptures permanently installed in Auckland, Austin, Bergen, Berlin, Bonn, Denver, Paris, Neu-Ulm, Nice, Seoul, Shenzhen, Tokyo, and Toulouse.
Venet has been the recipient of several distinguishing honors, including France’s Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, as well as the 2013 International Julio González Sculpture Prize, the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Sculpture Center (ISC), the Prix 2017 Montblanc de la Culture, the Prix François Morellet 2019, became a fellow of the Royal Society of Sculptors in London in 2020, and most recently, received the 2022 Artist of the Year Award from the AFMI (American Friends of Museums in Israel). The Venet Foundation, inaugurated in July 2014, aims to preserve the site of the artist’s home in Le Muy, France, and conserve the collection and the artist’s works.