Great gallery for NZ Venice Biennale exhibition – featuring controversial artist and Nicky Hager

Nicky Hager
NZ Venice Biennale Pavilion, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana

Creative New Zealand has recently revealed that New Zealand’s exhibition for the 56th Venice Biennale 2015 will be housed in the grand salon of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, one of the finest buildings in Venice and home to priceless works of cartography, art and literature.

New Zealand sculptor and installation artist Simon Denny, who will be exhibiting at next year’s Biennale, says the Marciana Library will provide a rich context for his work.

“The exhibition will address the intersection of geography and power, and the ownership of knowledge, so this pioneering library will provide an enriching and highly relevant context for the work.”

New Zealand commissioner for the 2015 Venice Biennale, Heather Galbraith, says securing the Marciana Library is a coup for New Zealand.

“It is located in the Piazzetta San Marco, in the heart of Venice. Designed by Jacopo Sansovino, the building is exquisite – a significant visitor destination in its own right. The Marciana Library holds many treasures including an exemplary early map of the world by fra Mauro (1448–53), which Simon’s project takes into consideration as it offers a parallel mapping of world power.”

Simon Denny studied at the University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts and at Frankfurt’s Städelschule, graduating in 2009. Born in Auckland, he is currently based in Berlin.

Mr Denny was a founding member of the Auckland artist-run space Gambia Castle. His work is regularly exhibited in New Zealand and is held in major public and private collections in New Zealand, including the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, and Dunedin Public Art Gallery. His work has been included in shows in major European art museums, including the ICA, London; Kunsthaus Bregenz; KW Center for Contemporary Art, Berlin; Fridericianum, Kassel, and Centre Pompidou, Paris.

In 2013, he presented All You Need Is Data: The DLD 2012 Conference Redux at Kunstverein Munich, Petzel Gallery, New York and Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin (as one of four nominees for the 2013 Preis der Nationalgalerie für Junge Kunst). He exhibited The Personal Effects of Kim Dotcom, at MUMOK, Vienna, and, in 2014, at Firstsite, Colchester. These shows received positive reviews in various publications including the New York Times, Focus, Frieze, and Süddeutsche Zeitung. Denny recently opened New Management at the Portikus, Frankfurt. 

In 2012, Simon Denny won the Baloise Art Prize at Art Basel. He was the only New Zealand artist invited to exhibit in the curated show at the 2013 Venice Biennale and is a nominee for the 2014 Walters Prize.

Creative New Zealand has also appointed additional team members to assist with New Zealand’s Biennale presentation. One of New Zealand’s most experienced contemporary-art curators and writers, Robert Leonard, will be the curator. Mr Leonard has held curatorial positions at the National Art Gallery, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, and Auckland Art Gallery, and was director of Artspace, Auckland.

Having been director of the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, since 2005, he recently returned to New Zealand to take up the role of chief curator at City Gallery Wellington. He will be joined by assistant curator Alex Davidson. A graduate of the University of Auckland, she was curatorial assistant at Artspace in 2012. Her role is generously supported by Dame Jenny Gibbs.

Joining the team as a specialist adviser will be investigative journalist and author Nicky Hager – now mildly famous for his book Dirty Politics. He has extensively researched and written on the intelligence industry. The project takes its title from Hager’s 1996 book Secret Power, an account of the role and international standing of New Zealand’s intelligence work.

Amsterdam-based designer David Bennewith will work with Mr Denny on the project’s branding and will design the website and exhibition catalogue.

The catalogue will be edited by Mr Leonard and art writer, editor and commentator Mary Barr.

“We expect a high level of interest in New Zealand’s exhibition and finalising a team of this calibre along with a spectacular venue has been very exciting," Ms Galbraith says. "These are significant milestones for New Zealand at Venice 2015.”

The Venice Biennale is the leading international event for contemporary art. More than 80 countries participate in the seven-month exhibition, which last year attracted more than 470,000 visitors.

New Zealand has had an official exhibition at the Venice Biennale since 2001. The artists have been Peter Robinson and Jacqueline Fraser (2001), Michael Stevenson (2003), et al. (2005), Judy Millar and Francis Upritchard (2009), Michael Parekowhai (2011), and Bill Culbert (2013).

The Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana The Biblioteca Marciana, the Library of St Mark, is one of the most important research libraries in Italy. It currently occupies the original Renaissance library dating from 1537 and the building that was constructed between 1537 and 1588 to house the mint. Today, besides about a million printed books, the Marciana Library contains some 13,000 manuscripts and 2883 incunabula and 24,055 works printed between 1501 and 1600.

Among the irreplaceable treasures are unique scores of operas by Francesco Cavalli and sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, two manuscripts of the Iliad from the 10th and 11th centuries and the first book ever printed in Venice (1469). In the first floor vestibule the ceiling is decorated with a painting by Titian "La Sapienza", and on the vaulted ceiling of the library hall are 21 paintings, the work of seven artists chosen by Titian and Sansovino themselves: the most famous are three by Paolo Veronese; on the walls are portraits of philosophers, some of which are works by Tintoretto and Veronese.

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