Bernar Venet’s Arcs

Carter Ratcliff

This exhibition of recent work by Bernar Venet contains three sculptures and six drawings.  All nine share a single title—Arcs—and display the same curving forms.  In the drawings, we see groups of four arcs; one of the sculptures has four of these elements, another has five, and in the third there are six.  To recall terms crucial to the series of Mathematical Paintings Venet launched in 1966: an arc is “any portion of the circumference of a circle.”  In these new works, that portion is extensive enough to produce a noticeable curvature without eliminating completely the impression of a straight line.  Made of steel bars and oriented vertically, the sculptures stand firmly on their platforms.  The drawings appear to be equally stable in their upright positions; less certain, however, is their scale. 

All six drawings are on sheets of paper over seven feet high.  In each, the arcs reach from the lower edge almost to the upper one.  Rendered in oil stick and graphite, these forms look monumental—a quality intensified by the visual echoes they find in sculptures that are also taller than we are.  The ratio of our height to that of the works in metal is of course fixed.  In the drawings, that ratio is variable for we are free to imagine these arcs at any size whatsoever.  They could be two or two-hundred times larger than the sculptural Arcs.  Yet we tend to see them as roughly comparable in size, in part because Venet drew the two-dimensional arcs with an accuracy that defines them as counterparts to the three-dimensional ones—members of the same family, so to speak.