Friday, May 4, 2007

New Zealand At The Venice Biennale

When the chips are down, you need to get stuck in and not wait around for the State to lend a hand. Nowhere is this attitude more essential than in the arts. Government funding is important but it comes with its own issues, and one of them is speed - or should I say lack of it. The reason I bring this up is because I have recently become involved in a fast moving, passionate alternative to a Government funding initiative in New Zealand.

For the last three Venice Biennales, Creative New Zealand the New Zealand Arts Council has sent one or two artists to represent the country. One of them was Michael Stevenson whose work I collect and have hanging in my Auckland office at The Strand in Parnell. Another was the collective known as et al.

We loved having an exhibition of their work at Saatchi & Saatchi’s New York offices, but unfortunately the installation that was sent to Venice caused a huge fuss. I’m talking about back in New Zealand, by the way, not in Venice where innovation is welcomed. While people like me think fuss is to be encouraged, Governments find fuss tough. This year the Arts Council decided that instead of sending an artist, they would send a committee to check out the scene and report back. Fortunately a committed curator, Alice Hutchinson, was not interested in reporting on anything. She moved fast and secured not only a venue in Venice, but also the blessing of Robert Storr, this year’s Venice Biennale director. As I write there is a container with an art installation called Aniwaniwa by Brett Graham and Rachael Rakena on a ship heading toward Italy. In a typically bold private-sector move, the people fronting this venture acted first and thought about funding later.

Another independent Venice initiative led by Brian Butler of Auckland’s Artspace leapt in with the same enthusiasm. They are creating and distributing a beautiful book featuring New Zealand’s top artists. It will be given away to curators and visitors in Venice, and it’s looking fantastic. I’ve joined other supporters and agreed to purchase a set of stunning photographs by Brett and Rachel and help with funding both projects. This year in Venice, the private goes public and I predict it will be a huge success.

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