Despite controversy surrounding the selection of the artist collective known as et al as New Zealand's 51st Venice Biennale representative, initial reaction to the exhibition appears favourable.

Some feared et al, which means "and others", was too obscure to compete on the worldwide art stage with 73 other countries, almost all of which had more to spend than New Zealand's $500,000.

Headed by Auckland artist Merilyn Tweedie, et al prefers to remain anonymous and let others speak about the work. But it seems the artist's enigmatic persona may have an appeal for international media tiring of art's cult of celebrity.

A steady stream of journalists, artists and curators have been stopping in to see the exhibition at a location just metres from the main exhibition site. About 1200 visited within the first two days of opening.

In 2001, Michael Stevenson's Trekka, in a less central location, drew 58,000 visitors over the total six months.

"Brilliant," Michele Robecchi, senior editor at London art magazine Contemporary, said of the et al piece, fundamental practice.

"I really liked the way the space is arranged - it works perfectly. You need to see the work to appreciate it. Photographs cannot convey what you're going to see and what you feel."

New York arts writer Joshua Mack, of Modern Painters magazine, praised et al for making it work within its Venetian setting.

"It's played off the whole environment of Venice in the way that the work is about being under construction and the way your movements are controlled.

"It had a level of freshness in it that some of the installations in the Giardini don't have."

Et al's sound installation consists of five, two-hour long recordings housed within metal structures. The work uses a range of material taken from sources as diverse as artists Marcel Duchamp, websites, religious texts, and scientific and philosophical theories.

The recordings play at random, meaning no experience of the work is the same and much of the meaning is left up to the viewer.

Fundamental practice looks like a gritty construction site, housing a computer that is programming a distorted and warped belief system.

The official opening on Thursday evening drew around 300 guests to the leafy courtyard of the Palazzo Gritti, the former orphanage where the New Zealand exhibition is housed.

The night before, about 800 people, including New York artists the Guerilla Girls, attended New Zealand's first Biennale party, held in a waterfront warehouse and sponsored by 42 Below vodka.

At the opening, New Zealand commissioner Greg Burke referred to the "little bit of controversy" over the selection of et al. But he said et al's work "resonated with a New Zealand character" on several levels. These included the country's history of a critical engagement with foreign policy, including its anti-nuclear stance and decision not to join the attack on Iraq.

The installation includes what are thought to be recordings of the last French nuclear tests in the South Pacific. Other nods to Aotearoa include the call of a morepork, and landscapes - blown-up black and white posters of New Zealand lakes - are scrawled with engineering symbols.

Among the guests was Robert Storr, the director of the Venice Biennale in 2007 and judge of this year's Walters Prize, which he awarded to et al.

He said et al's work in Venice was entirely suited to the Biennale.