New Zealand exhibition in Venice lights up the town

Bill Culbert, Bebop (Photo: Jennifer French)
Bill Culbert, Daylight Flotsam Venice

Bill Culbert, Front Door Out Back
New Zealand Pavilion
Santa Maria della Pieta
Until November 24

On Wednesday night in Venice the spectacular Bill Culbeft exhibition was opened by the most  influential person in the art world. Sir Nicolas Serota, Director of the Tate Modern lavished praise on the artist and even admitted that Great Britain had made a big mistake by not exhibiting him in their pavilion.

The exhibition Front Door Out Back is spread over several spaces adjacent to the church of Santa Maria della Pieta which is famed as the church where Vivaldi presented many of his works.

The exhibition consists of several separate works which are connected by his use of  white fluorescent tubes. The main corridor contains a huge jumble of fluorescent tubes, formica tables and chairs which form a series of chandelier-like works suspended along the 30 metre corridor. After this is a small witty work in which the artist has used a group of the new Fonterra milk bottles, pierced by a fluorescent tube which contrasts with his usual use of the more transparent bottles. In the first courtyard are two old wardrobes each pierced by three fluorescent tubes. Then comes the dramatic work Daylight Flotsam Venice consisting of dozens of coloured plastic containers and fluorescent tubes. The title and the material are probably a reference to all the flotsam which bobs the canals of Venice. In another courtyard is a simple house or whare shape entitled HUT, Made in Christchurch. It stands as  a simple memorial to the earthquake while the last rooms consisting of pieces of old furniture pierced by fluorescent tubes are a meditation on the past. Here also is the back door opening onto a flotsam filled canal.

Culbert's use of suspended furniture has resonance with one of the big name artists in the Biennale. The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei who is showing in the German pavilion employs dozens of wooden stools which are linked by wooden rods the size of fluorescent tubes to create a pyramidal structure. Then there is the Portuguese artist Pedro Cabrita Reis who has created a huge structure of metal and fluorescent tubes which not only transform the space of the Palazzo Falier but also, like Culbert embody the process of making art.

Bill Culberts work has been central to a number of areas of contemporary art particularly around the use of light, new approaches to vision and the treatment of space. He and a number of other artists probe issues such as form, its presence and disappearance, perception, how artists work in and with space as well as the almost filmic quality of light operating over time.

The exhibition Dynamo: A Century of Light and Movement in Art currently at the Grand Palais in Paris (until July 22) looks like a show intended to provide both an historical and contemporary context for Culberts work. with works by Dan Flavin and Bruce Naumann as well as others. Their rigorous abstraction however lacks the adventure of Culbert. They require gallery spaces or rooms to enclose their work. Culbert's work transforms any space.

Culbert's work always seems to be referencing the history of art and artists The ideas around the Renaissance exploration of perspective and a means of creating the illusion of three dimensional space along with the discovery of ways of representing light.
His work also connects with the birth of abstraction - an art which is concerned at using the the elements of colour, line, shape and space without the need for narrative or representation.

His work has parallels with artists such as Joseph Beuys and Marcel Duchamp and demonstrates the way his work seems to combine an almost philosophical purism along with the ability to create visual jokes

This work like many of his large installations has both a sense and the look of theatre with many similarities to  staging of  contemporary opera and ballet. This creation of unusual spaces also seems to relate to writers such as Beckett and particularly the Argentinian Borges around the creation of parallel spaces and realities.

That the exhibition is next to a church also highlights another aspect of Culbert's work.  Churches are often brilliantly lit and in the past lit by hundreds of candles signifying  divine light. Churches also often feature coloured glass,the properties of which become fully apparent when light is falling through them bathing spaces in light.

All of this is said to provide a spiritual experience and so Culbert can be seen as being one of the Gods of Creation.

La Pieta is where Vivaldi worked, presenting many if his choral works in the adjacent chapel and while there is no music playing here the various spaces could be seen as  physical manifestations of a series of movements from a concerto and the main hall with its suspended lights and furniture echoing the forms of the music

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2 Comments & Questions

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Sorry to be picky, but there is no neon anywhere in this exhibition.
They are fluorescent tubes ..... Please get your facts right.

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Fantastic review. Thank you, JDP, for giving us an insight into this great show of work by this NZ artist who is so worthy of representing NZ art and thinking at Venice. We should be proud. Articulating our thoughts and aspirations is difficult enough, but giving them a visual, even a 'neon', florescence is marvellous. Thank you BIll, thank you John and thank you NBR. These reviews connect us to the world we celebrate and remain inspired by. Those, yes, those are the facts.

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