In Pursuit of Venus (infected) closed last Sunday at the Auckland Art Gallery. It was a cultural phenomenon - 49,000 visitors saw the ' />

Lisa Reihana's In Pursuit of Venus (infected) closed last Sunday at the Auckland Art Gallery. It was a cultural phenomenon - 49,000 visitors saw the exhibition, making it the gallery's most popular show by a New Zealand artist, alive or dead, since 1997.

The excitement peaked on the final weekend when hundreds of patrons sat in the dark watching the 32-minute digital panorama - re-imagining Joseph Dufour's 19th-century wallpaper Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique - unfold.

Four months after opening, not only did the exhibition have its biggest day, but the 1500 visitors on Sunday represented the single largest day on Level 2 of the gallery since it reopened in 2011.

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People from throughout the country came to see it, with one group making the trip from the Cook Islands for the final weekend. For the visual arts, this is a blockbuster. Before the last week, Reihana was interviewed by Kim Hill on National Radio.

A tweet from arts doyen Hamish Keith was received by the programme declaring In Pursuit of Venus to be one of the greatest art works he had seen in this country during his long career. He suggested the piece should represent New Zealand at the next Venice Biennale.

By chance, later this month, the panel deciding who will be the artist for the country's pavilion at Venice in 2017 will begin discussions. If Lisa Reihana is one of the names being considered, commissioner Alastair Carruthers and other panelists will be in uncharted territory, balancing the momentum of a highly popular and critically lauded recent show against the merits of lower-profile entries.

New Zealand is exhibiting at the biennale in Venice right now, represented by artist Simon Denny. His work Secret Power is spread over two locations, the first on San Marco Square and the other at the tourism mecca's airport. Since opening it has attracted a lot of international attention.

But apart from a few newspaper articles by journalists whose travel was subsidised by Creative New Zealand, the work has failed to permeate the mainstream here.

This is a great shame because the subject matter that inspired it, the 2013 Snowden leaks and the Five Eyes global surveillance network, both have huge contemporary relevance for New Zealanders.

The timeliness of the exhibition is perhaps one of the reasons it has been suggested Secret Power will go to London's Serpentine Gallery after the biennale. If that happens, such follow-on success would represent a major coup for Denny and his team.

This is work made by a New Zealand artist about important events that directly concern people here.


It is about the state of the world we live in and the nature of modern power.

Once Secret Power has finished its run overseas, the exhibition or a version of it needs to be staged here.

It was a bold move for Creative New Zealand to back the project in the first place, but there is still work to do, enabling the art to help promote discussion back home.