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Venice Biennale: NZ artist shows on the Grand Canal

One of New Zealand's big art promotions gets under way at the Venice Biennale next month.

John Daly-Peoples
Tue, 24 May 2011

The Venice Biennale, which features artists from more than 80 countries exhibiting in purpose-built pavilions in the Biennale gardens as well as in palazzos around the city,  attracts the biggest art media contingents from around the world.

In the first three days of June around 10,000 major players in the international art worlds will be at Venice, including 3000 journalists, all looking to report on the latest thing. At the last Biennale more than 5000 articles, interviews and programmes were produced.

In 2009, the official New Zealand art installations by Judy Millar and Francis Upritchard were covered in several dozen articles internationally and the grand opening, which featured a kapa haka group, made international news and screened on television in a number of countries.

While the New Zealand exhibition is not in the Biennale Gardens it is well placed to attract the tourist as well as Venetians.

This year the official New Zealand exhibition of work by Michael Parekowhai's will be in the Palazzo Lorendan fronting the Grand Canal. It will be the first time the New Zealand pavilion will have been in such a prime position on the Grand Canal just down from the Venice Fire Station.

It is a 15th-century Gothic palace that once belonged to the Loredan family. It was called dell'ambasciatore from the time when it the palace of the ambassadors of the Austrian Empire to the Venetian Republic.

The Biennale attracts more than 375,000 over five months and is the most attended art event in the world art calendar.

This year’s official New Zealand exhibition has a budget of more than $1 million with Creative New Zealand contributing $700,000 directly to the project, as well as providing staff support. In addition, the Friends of Venice group of 70 patrons have contributed more than $300,000

As well as the official New Zealand entry, Michael Parekowhai, three other New Zealand artists exhibiting; Judy Millar, Joseph Herscher and Hye Rim Lee.

Judy Millar has also been included in another group exhibition called Personal Structures, which is exhibited at Palazzo Bembo. This includes some of the major international artists, including Marina Abramovic, Carl Andre and Joseph Kosuth.

The opening ceremonies attracted widespread international media coverage; numerous major art publications have printed interviews with the artists and reviews of their work.

The artist was subsequently been invited to contribute at international exhibitions and art fairs including being selected for the prestigious New York International Studio and Curatorial Program residency on the strength of her biennale representation.

The biennale also attracts some of the most important and wealthy buyers and collectors as well as important art curators.

Even though this is not a selling event it is estimated that more than $US250million of business is done during the first few days of the event.

In addition the event has provided a useful entry for New Zealand artists into the international market.

Peter Robinson, who showed at the Biennale in 2001, has had exhibitions in major institutions around the world – Spain, Germany, Lithuania, Norway and the UK.

The artists known as et al has had solo shows in New York, Brisbane and Hobart.

A history of New Zealand at the Venice Biennale 2001-09
New Zealand is a relative newcomer to the Venice Biennale, with 2011 marking the fifth official participation. For all of the New Zealand artists whose work has been shown significant national and international opportunities have transpired, and a broadened awareness of and engagement with their work have resulted.

New Zealand's presence at the Biennale, in tandem with the profiling of New Zealand contemporary art within international art fairs and curated exhibitions, is crucial to engaging audiences, curators, writers and collectors with the quality and breadth of the contemporary New Zealand art scene.

2001: The first New Zealand Pavilion:
New Zealand first mounted an exhibition at the 49th Biennale in 2001. Two individual installations were exhibited at the Museo di Sant’ Apollonia, grouped under the title Bi-Polar; Jacqueline Fraser: A Demure Portrait of the Artist Strip Searched and Peter Robinson: Divine Comedy.

Peter Robinson
Divine Comedy

The title of Robinson’s exhibition comes from Dante Alighieri’s book Divine Comedy. The exhibition featured a series of sleek sculptures and digital prints (utilising a binary code translation of Dante’s Inferno), based around complex concepts of existence, and drew together unlikely points of reference from quantum physics to Stephen Hawking's book A Brief History of Time.

Jacqueline Fraser
A Demure Portrait of the Artist Strip Searched

Jacqueline Fraser’s intricate installation involved suspended drops of Italian damask fabric that formed a maze through which visitors could explore the sculptural and text-based interventions within the maze’s interior. It was the first in a trilogy of installations that continued throughout 2001 at the Yokohama Triennale, Japan and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York. The two exhibitions were welcomed back to New Zealand in 2003 when they were configured for display at City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi. A Demure Portrait of the Artist Strip Searched is now in the collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and has also been shown in Toi Te Papa.

2003: Michael Stevenson
This is the Trekka
Berlin-based New Zealand artist Michael Stevenson’s project took up residence in La Maddalena church in Cannaregio (the same venue Judy Millar’s project Giraffe-Bottle-Gun occupied in 2009) to critical acclaim. In his work, Stevenson drew attention to particular historical moments by reproducing artefacts from a series of historical case studies. The Trekka was New Zealand’s only nationally-produced vehicle. It was manufactured in Onehunga, Auckland, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with a chassis and motor imported from Czechoslovakia.

This is the Trekka investigated an attempt by New Zealand to create its own car industry, and the economic links between New Zealand and Czechoslovakia at the height of the Cold War. The exhibition used the visual language of a trade show at the time of the Trekka’s production, and included seemingly disparate components which collectively created a story about trade and nationalism. It included a wall made of New Zealand produced butter boxes and the Moniac – an historical device for recording the forces and checks of a nation’s economy through the passage of water through a complex series of valves and gates. This is the Trekka was acquired by the Te Papa and was shown in Small World Big Town: Contemporary Art from Te Papa at City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi in 2005.

the fundamental practice
In 2005, the collective et al staged their richly complex installation the fundamental practice at La Pietà, iterations of which were subsequently shown at the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, and Artspace, Auckland. the fundamental practice continued a process of research and investigation, using techniques of procedure and presentation from other ideological systems – scientific, military, political, revolutionary. The installation suggested a control-room for a diabolical plan, performing texts, provoking and alluding to the ideologies we are conditioned by and their structures of delivery. Subsequent to et al’s project at Venice, they were selected to mount altruistic studies within the prestigious Art Unlimited programme at Art 39 Basel 2008.

2007: No official Pavilion, but the show must go on
Creative New Zealand undertook a study of international visual arts events to assist it in strategising for the future. There were two self-initiated New Zealand projects at the 52nd Biennale. The book Speculation, which was published by NZ Venice Project and JRP|Ringier, featured work by 30 New Zealand artists selected by eight curators. More than 2000 copies of the book were distributed to vernissage attendees.

Aniwaniwa by Brett Graham and Rachel Rakena was selected to be featured among the Biennale’s Collateral Events section. This elegiac and commanding work, which melded sculptural forms with moving image and a haunting soundtrack, was housed in an ancient salt warehouse in Dorsoduro, one of the six sestieri in Venice.

Central to the work is the theme of submersion, as a metaphor for cultural loss. Locally, Aniwaniwa refers to rapids at the narrowest point of the Waikato River by the village of Horahora, where Graham’s father was born and his grandfather worked at the Horahora power station. In 1947, the town was flooded to create a hydro-electric dam downstream. Many historic sites significant to Graham’s hapu Ngati Koroki were lost forever.

In Aniwaniwa water as the consumer of histories becomes the vehicle by which histories are retold. In many of Rachael Rakena’s works Māori identity is explored as being in a state of flux, like the borders of a river are constantly being redefined. Likewise, water is churned into electricity; electricity is transformed into light. Light makes such a work possible, and in a sense returns to a new generation memories of a town now consumed by water.

2009: Judy Millar and Francis Upritchard
New Zealand’s participation in 2009 was a critical and popular success with an unprecedented number of visitors passing through the 2009 exhibitions. Some 114,000 visitors viewed Judy Millar’s installation Giraffe-Bottle-Gun, curated by Leonhard Emmerling, and Francis Upritchard’s installation, Save Yourself, curated by Heather Galbraith and Francesco Manacorda. Both works returned home to New Zealand in February 2010 for a four-month exhibition at Te Papa.

Judy Millar

Judy Millar took over the interior of the Neo-Classical structure La Maddalena, the only circular church in Venice. The largest piece in Millar's exhibition, sited in the centre of the church, was a painting in the round, bulging and intruding into the viewer's space in three dimensions. In other parts of the church oddly- shaped canvasses leant against the walls, stretching their elongated necks to the ceiling, making obvious their temporary placement in Venice and their provisional relationship with this place of worship and belief.

The generous and unusual physical dimensions of La Maddalena allowed for a full play of spatial disruptions, dislocations and inversions. A large visceral image surged and looped around the circular space, channelling the path of the viewer and establishing views and vistas around and across the architectural space. Tensions between notions of inside and outside, large and small and real and illusionistic space unfolded.

Giraffe-Bottle-Gun instigated a lively dispute with the venue in which it intrudes, between the great history of Venetian painting and this contemporary practice. Since the Biennale in 2009, Millar has continued to exhibit internationally, and her work in collections includes Auckland Art Gallery, Te Papa, Christchurch Art Gallery, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Kunstmuseum St Gallen, CAP Art, Dublin. Millar is also represented in numerous international private collections.

Francis Upritchard
Save Yourself

"I want to create a visionary landscape, which refers to the hallucinatory works of the medieval painters Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel, and simultaneously draws on the utopian rhetoric of post-sixties counterculture, high modernist futurism and the warped dreams of survivalists, millenarians and social exiles," Upritchard says. The installation  includes clusters of figures and structures spread through the faded elegance of three chambers within the Fondazione Claudio Buziol at the Palazzo Mangilli-Valmarana overlooking the Grand Canal. Each grouping occupied an imaginary landscape from an indeterminate historical period.

The figures populating these fantasy scenes are detailed with a psychedelic surface and a handmade quality. They were searchers, dreamers, dancers; consumed by their acts of meditation or lost in reverie. The installation combined the antique and futuristic, making the scene both familiar and unsettling. The work explored ideas about time, hope and evolutionary change and points to uncertain boundaries between high and applied art as experienced through the lavish decor of the Venetian palazzo.

John Daly-Peoples
Tue, 24 May 2011
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Venice Biennale: NZ artist shows on the Grand Canal