International art critics are raving about New Zealand artist Lisa Reihana's panoramic video at the Venice Art Biennale.

The show is described as the "Olympics of the art world" and, judging by reaction to Reihana's Emissaries, she would be a gold medal winner from the 120 artists from 83 countries selected.

German magazine Spiegel says the New Zealand pavilion is a must-see.

Art is displayed at the Arsenale and Giardini and dozens of smaller venues across Venice.


For the first time, NZ has been given space in the Arsenale at Tese dell'Isolotto, one of the shipyard's oldest buildings and long enough for Emissaries, which is 23.5m long and 3.3m high, to be shown in all its glory.

Inspired by 19th century French scenic wallpaper, Reihana produced a contemporary animated version, which illustrates the Pacific voyages of Captain James Cook and the encounters he and his crew may have had with Pacific peoples.

Spiegel critic Carola Padtberg writes: "It is a delicate, thoughtful contribution: how strongly do the cliches still determine our thinking?" says Emissaries is like a waking dream that visualises the complexities of colonisation and belonging, communication and engagement via song, dance and performance.

The Upcoming culture website says "This work by Lisa Reihana is a fantastic example of how contemporary technology can be used effectively in art."

While it's had glowing reviews from French publication Le Monde and Italy's Mousse, perhaps the highest praise has come from UK newspapers The Telegraph and The Times.
The Telegraph says the NZ pavilion is one of the top 10 while Waldemar Januszczak, in The Times, says Emissaries is the best work at the Biennale. "This ambitious riveting animated sequence that took 10 years to complete deserves to be recognised as one of the key artworks of recent years."