It’s vocabulary that reminds us how mathematics and philosophy like to orbit one another. Finite and infinite, rational and irrational, predictable and unpredictable, determinate and indeterminate—these are crucial complements to French conceptual artist Bernar Venet, who employs indeterminacy as both a mathematical concept and a philosophical guidepost. His practice wavers between communicating the process of making an artwork (and its inherent uncertainty and unpredictability), and embodying that process materially. From his early conceptual work, which exhaustively explored the industrial, impersonal, and neutral in art, to his pivot to sculptural work in the 1970s, it was, in more ways than one, a simple question of connecting the dots, as noted by the artist in Sculpture in 2004: “The better part of my sculpture (with four variations) originated by taking the line as a point of departure: the straight line (‘Diagonals’), the curved line (‘Arcs’), the broken line (‘Angles’), and the line freed from mathematical constraints (‘Indeterminate Lines’).” What mathematical form could be more neutral than the line?
Those lines “freed from mathematical constraints”—freed from being lines—in the form of five monumental steel sculptures, form the bulk of “Indeterminate Hypothesis,” Venet’s recent exhibition at Kasmin. They range from a single piece of rolled metal to six interlocked beams spun into a nest-like pile. Formally, they make surprisingly light contact with the floor. They emanate the warmth of rust. They are satisfying to walk around, look through on either end, and peer into from the sides, where they resemble ribs. Two Indeterminate Lines, the only pair, intertwine (if not embrace), and if your eyes do acrobatics you might find where the pieces roll, loop, and come to rest with each other. In the four pieces in the exhibition comprised of more than one steel section, these configurations, which vary according to the particular exhibition and spatial context, carry the works’ visual tension—they are the clearest indicators that a form has been willed into being, and that that physical process has been mostly erased.
It’s a challenge to communicate that steel is unpredictable, improvised, infinite—really open-ended in any way, except in this case literally: where, rolled into a “0,” it loops and loops, zero over zero over zero. But this paradox is better expressed, or reinforced, when one moves from the austere grid of skylights in the main space to the gallery’s blackbox-like space around the corner, on 10th Avenue. There Venet performed The Straight Line and the Pictorial Memory of the Gesture, where, with a steel beam clipped into a cable suspended from the ceiling, he made a series of radial gestures. These were rendered visible with paint, which had been applied to one of the bar’s edges. Acting less like a brush and more technically like the matrix for a print, the beam, steered by Venet, proceeded to manifest a color wheel, the radial print of mushroom gills, or per Olivier Schefer’s description in the exhibition catalogue, “powerful yet fragile fans”—which is a good way to describe the noun and verb at the same time. The beam—that crucial aesthetic link between the performance and the other works on view—remained hanging, a symbol of interruption and future potential. This duality can also characterize Venet’s long career.