Saturday, March 23, 2013

Venet's Arcs in New Orleans

Spring is a time to wander in parks filled with birds, flowers and sculptures. Bernar Venet, a French artist, is well represented in New Orleans with works uptown (on the Tulane campus) and downtown ( in Lafayette Square). Famous in France, he is reaching an international audience with sculptures on five continents, including far away New Zealand.
The artist born in 1941 was close to members of the New Realism movement like ArmanCésar, Villeglé in the early sixties and after a two months stay in New York discovered Minimalism and moved to New York City in 1967. His biography is readily available on the Web. His show at the Versailles Palace garden in 2011 brought plenty of controversy, not about the sculptures but due to its location on a site of historical significance.

Back to the sculptures in New Orleans, I could not find a date on the signs next to them. Referring to Venet's biography, they both represent the period of the nineties but were most likely conceived much earlier. After spending time travelling and teaching art history at the Sorbonne from 1971 till 1976, the artist resumed his career. He embraced the concept of monosemy, works conveying a single meaning and perfected his gesture through a mathematical language to create his Arcs Series.

Downtown, the sculpture has replaced the intimate Eye Bench from Louise Bourgeois which at the corner of the square, provided a place to sit, reflect, converse and lighted the area at night. Venet's arc under the foliage is hardly visible and the steel stays dark and cold in the shade. Due to spatial constraints, the background appears flat and compacted. In one word, the sculpture feels odd in its surrounding..

 In contrast, I found the sculpture uptown in harmony with the landscape. On the green campus, in full sun, the Cor-ten steel takes reddish warm colors and the shape provides a frame to  older buildings, trees or passersby allowing a positive interaction between the sculpture and its environment. Venet, known for his mistrust of all ideologies and theories, sees  his work at one level, it just exists. A closer and farther look at the sculpture brought up some thoughts. The round form is a feminine symbol, alludes to  meeting and also spiritual energy. The broken circle brings the viewer to look up at the sky and its broader cosmic unity.
In both places the mathematically perfect shape, the strong raw steel contrast with the organic shapes and matter, underlying the perfection of mathematics versus nature.

The artist himself is skeptical about his work being displayed outdoors. Speaking about his site specific sculpture in New Zealand he stated: "I prefer my works inside a room- that way you aren't distracted by the surrounding me, a work of art has its own identity..."

The comparison between the two sites suggests that the role of outdoor sculptures is to define a space and  foster an harmonious relationship between piece of art, landscape and architecture. 

photographs by the author

"230.5° Arc x 5", Bernar Venet
"Eye Bench" Louise bourgeois
"Arcs in Disorder" 3 Arcs x 5 , Bernar Venet

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