The octogenarian conceptual artist shares his favourite pieces from his personal art collection.
Iconic French artist Bernar Venet is best known for his swooping, gravity-defying sculptures in steel. He has received many accolades during his career, including the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest decoration.
The Venet Foundation is open to the public during the summer, in the village of Le Muy, southern France. Venet is a passionate collector, with a bounty of masterpieces at his home.
He shares the stories behind his favourites here.
Dedication, Marcel Duchamp
It was my great privilege to meet Marcel Duchamp in the autumn of 1967. I was describing certain works of art when Duchamp, with an amused look, said: “So you’re selling hot air?” I didn’t take the comment to be altogether appropriate. But, to reassure me, he wrote in the margin of a newspaper lying on the table: “La vente de vent est l'événement de Venet (The sale of wind is Venet’s event.)” A sentence improvised in a few seconds that used the letters of my name four times in French. Before I left, he wrote a dedication on the cover of a book called Transition.
Robot Portrait, Arman
I still smile whenever I think of the day in 1971 in New York when Arman wanted to do my ‘Portrait Robot’ and spent the evening rummaging in my cupboards, my art studio, my bathroom.
Maze, Dennis Oppenheim
Because he couldn’t pay his rent once in 1970, Dennis Oppenheim called me for help, offering one of his works in exchange for rent money. With US$400 in my pocket (exactly the amount he owed his landlord), I headed over to meet him in his Tribeca loft. It was a set of photos titled Maze that I chose that day. The piece is characteristic of the Land Art movement, featuring a herd of cows that are supposed to find food scattered on the site that is at a distance in the maze.
Untitled, Jannis Kounellis
Jannis Kounellis is a major artist of Arte Povera. He put together a very extensive and beautiful show in Toulon in 2005. I sent him a fax when his show closed, pointing out that Le Muy, where my foundation’s collection is located, is not far from Toulon; he could make a quick stop and drop off one of his pieces in exchange for one of mine. That is how I was able to acquire Untitled, a powerful work by an artist for whom I have great respect.
The Frank Stella Chapel, James Turrell
The Frank Stella Chapel with James Turrell’s Skyspace is the pride of my foundation’s collection. During a visit to Stella’s studio in 2011, I discovered on one immense wall six very large reliefs in aluminium and steel, which reminded me of the Rothko Chapel in Houston. Why not try something similar for my foundation? Stella agreed to design the architecture himself.
Glass Cubes, Larry Bell
Larry Bell is part of that generation of pioneers in Los Angeles who, with Bob Irwin, DeWain Valentine and others, did so much to renew sculpture in the 1960s. They use glass and polyester to create effects with natural light in minimalist forms. Bell came to visit us in 2018 and we thought that one of his works would make a welcome addition to the foundation.
This article originally appeared in Billionaire's Hope Issue, Spring 2021. To subscribe contact
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