The instant reaction of many visitors to Lisa Reihana's Pursuit of Venus [infected] at Auckland Art Gallery was that it should go to the next Venice Biennale in 2017.
Reihana had produced a work that delivered everything. The reimagining of Joseph Dufour's exotic wallpaper Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique as a 26m-long video panorama was a technical marvel. Beloved by critics and crowds larger than any solo show at the gallery for close to 20 years, the announcement that it had been selected for the New Zealand pavilion at Venice surprised no one.
But Creative New Zealand should take note of the very public nature of this year's process with an eye to the future. In the past, the funder has been good at changing the way applications are considered. One major question that needs to be asked should be: is there any need to maintain the confidentiality around who has applied and what their proposals are?
The publicity surrounding Venus backed up hard against the panel sitting down to make its choice. It was one of the reasons for the higher-than-normal interest, as well as New Zealand's latest pavilion still being open at this year's biennale, Simon Denny's Secret Power attracting a great deal of attention and follow-on business. Collectors Jim and Mary Barr fuelled further discussion in publishing a list of potential applicants on their well-informed Over The Net blog. I found dealers only too happy to have their people outed as being in line for the role because of the esteemed company it put them alongside.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
Billy Apple, Fiona Pardington, Kate Newby and Dane Mitchell's names all came up in speculation. But a list of names doesn't really tell us much. If the panel is going to consider sending an existing work that everyone has just seen and raved about to the biennale, it would balance things for the other proposals to be made public too.
There is no shame in not getting to Venice. For top artists, making shortlists for various prizes, and sometimes not winning, is just part of life. Debate is healthy and lifts the profile of the sector while underlining the strength that exists in the visual arts in this country.
In the end no one is arguing with the decision but it's understood Reihana and curator Rhana Devenport are mindful that the biennale is for new work and will make additions to Venus before bringing it to the quite different audience of influential critics and buyers.
Given the colonial subject matter, simply taking the show to Europe lends a novelty factor. Reihana's photographs will be produced and a waka sequence added to the video display along with the depiction of a transgender Captain James Cook character.
Expectations are high after Simon Denny redefined what is possible for New Zealand at Venice. The way he took $700,000 from the state funder, used it to make a critique of the Government's surveillance arrangements, then sold a bit of it back to them for $750,000 before sending the rest to the Serpentine Gallery in London is still breathtaking in its audacity.