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New Zealand’s Secret Power exhibition attracts international media attention in Venice.

22 Jun 2015

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New Zealand’s pavilion for the 2015 Venice Biennale has been picked in high profile publications as a “must see” for visitors to the most famous art event in the world, staged in Venice every two years.  

Berlin-based Aucklander Simon Denny, one of New Zealand’s most successful contemporary artists, attracted early attention with half of his Biennale exhibition installed in the arrivals area at Venice’s Marco Polo Airport. 

During the Biennale’s preview week, more than 4,000 media, arts professionals, collectors and patrons experienced the other half of the New Zealand pavilion, housed in the Monumental Rooms of the exquisite Marciana Library in the heart of Venice. The exhibition has been previewed, reviewed and recommended by publications such as The Guardian, The Independent, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal as well as high-profile art magazines and tourist publications.

Heather Galbraith, Commissioner for NZ at Venice says the exhibition is now open to the public and attracting around 6,000 visitors per week through the summer high season.  “This is very promising and we expect the exhibition to continue attract significant numbers of international visitors over the six-and-a-half months of the biennale.”

She says, “Simon is to be heartily congratulated. He has realized an extraordinary project over two fascinating sites. The works have attracted unprecedented international attention, and it is very exciting for a New Zealand exhibition at the Venice Biennale to be so positively received by both the media and public alike. It is a testimony to the calibre of the work and its investigation of urgent contemporary issues.”

Denny’s exhibition, named Secret Power, after a 1996 book by investigative journalist Nicky Hager, draws upon Venice’s history to offer a new perspective on the visual culture of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance (between the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), as revealed in documents leaked by NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013. As a case study, it includes interpretations of work found on the public-facing Behance and LinkedIn profiles of former NSA creative director David Darchicourt.

Simon Denny, at 32, is riding a wave of international success. He recently opened a solo show at New York’s MoMA PS1; a first for a Zealand artist.

International responses to Secret Power, New Zealand’s pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale:

New York Times T Magazine: New Zealand’s Contribution to the Venice Biennale: A Library and an Airport, Transposed  “For the 56th Biennale (appropriately titled “All the World’s Futures”), art lovers who reach Venice by air will be greeted by an immersive installation that fuses symbolic aspects of the library with the airport’s and vice versa.”

A-N: Venice 2015 Preview: Ten Must-See National Pavilions  “Taking its title from the 1996 book by Nicky Hager that investigated and revealed New Zealand’s international intelligence contribution, artist Simon Denny explores the role of data, knowledge and technological power at two contrasting exhibition sites. New arrivals to Venice are greeted by his work at the arrivals lounge of Marco Polo Airport.”

Bloomberg: Ten Reasons Non-Art People Should Care About the Venice Biennale  “Berlin-based, New Zealand-born Simon Denny is having an art-world moment.”

The Guardian: Simon Denny, the artist who did reverse espionage on the NSA  “The Marciana Library in Venice is one of the world’s great repositories of humanist knowledge. Its grand hall is covered in paintings of philosophers, and its ceiling with allegorical images about the acquisition of knowledge. Now, that hall is temporary home to another meditation on the accrual of information.”

The Wall Street Journal: Three Standout Exhibits at the Venice Biennale   “At this year’s Venice Biennale, Invisible Borders Trans-African Project, Simon Denny’s ‘Secret Power’ and Walker Evans’s photographs are among the pick of the crop.”

The Baltimore Sun: Former NSA illustrator finds his work the focus of a major international art show “Freelance designer David Darchicourt usually produces whimsical illustrations for clients he finds over the Internet. Now, he's also the unwitting star of an exhibit at the Venice Biennale, a major international art show that opens this weekend.”

Dazed Magazine: Ten Things to Search Out at the Venice Biennale  “It's a hot year for Denny with a current MoMA PS1 show. At Venice Berlin-based Denny is taking on the New Zealand Pavilion. His presentation is the first work that will hit you – at the Marco Polo Airport.”

ARTnews: Simon Denny, Representing New Zealand, Exposes the Language of State Surveillance “…incisive, and surprisingly humorous ...easily one of the strongest national pavilions in Venice this year.”

Artnet News: The Most Outlandish Things Seen at the 56th Venice Biennale So Far and Everything You Need to Know About the Venice Biennale 2015

Artsy.net: The New Zealand Pavilion Uncovers the Art of the NSA "...few artists have adequately tackled this incredibly rich and fraught subject matter. Enter Simon Denny."

BBC: The art of uncovering the USA’s surveillance culture

Christie’s: The pick of the pavilions and Simon Denny - Marciana Library (video interview)

The Intercept: Inside the Secret World of NSA Art

Domus (Italy): Secret Power -  Simon Denny represents New Zealand for the 56th Venice Biennale "..the Simon Denny installation is one of the most talked-about of this Biennale."

Hopes&Fears: Artist Simon Denny on NSA art, Genius and Kim Dotcom's weird Predator statue “Simon Denny is having a year.”

For more information on New Zealand’s exhibition at 2015 Venice Biennale: www.nzatvenice.com or follow New Zealand at the Venice Biennale on Facebook

Notes to Editors:

Venice Art Biennale

The Venice Biennale is the leading international event for contemporary visual arts. In 2013 more than 80 countries participated in the six-month exhibition, attracting more than 470,000 visitors. This year’s Biennale runs from May to November, closer to seven months in duration.

Creative New Zealand funds and leads New Zealand’s presence at the Venice Biennale.

Creative New Zealand acknowledges the support of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi and Massey University Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa in the realisation of the 2015 exhibition.

The initiative is also generously supported by the NZ at Venice Patrons, Galerie Buchholz, Michael Lett, Petzel Gallery, T293, Arounder.com/Vrway communication, Save S.p.A Group (Marco Polo Airport), and donors Liv Barrett, Lonti Ebers, Danny and Lisa Goldberg, Friedrich Petzel, Jackson Tang, and others.

New Zealand has exhibited at the Venice Biennale since 2001. New Zealand artists who have exhibited are: Peter Robinson and Jacqueline Fraser (2001), Michael Stevenson (2003), et al. (2005), Judy Millar and Francis Upritchard (2009), Michael Parekowhai (2011) and Bill Culbert (2013).

Simon Denny

Simon Denny studied at the University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts and at Frankfurt’s Städelschule, graduating in 2009. Born in Auckland, he is currently based in Berlin.

Denny was a founding member of the Auckland artist-run space Gambia Castle. His work is regularly exhibited in New Zealand and is held in major public and private collections in New Zealand, including the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, and Dunedin Public Art Gallery.

Denny has been included in shows in major European and international art museums, including the ICA, London; Kunsthaus Bregenz; KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin; Fridericianum, Kassel, Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art, Beijing; and the Aspen Art Museum. In 2013, he presented All You Need Is Data—The DLD 2012 Conference REDUX at Kunstverein Munich; Petzel Gallery, New York; and Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin (as one of four nominees for the 2013 Preis der Nationalgalerie für Junge Kunst). In 2013, he exhibited The Personal Effects of Kim Dotcom, at MUMOK, Vienna, and, in 2014, at Firstsite, Colchester, and the Adam Art Gallery, Wellington. In 2014 Denny presented New Management at the Portikus, Frankfurt. He was included in the 2008 Sydney Biennale and the 2008 Brussels Biennial.

In 2012, Simon Denny won the Baloise Art Prize at Art Basel. He has been the only New Zealand artist invited to exhibit in the curated show at la Biennale Arte di Venezia, which he did in 2013 and was shortlisted for the 2014 and 2012 Walters Prize in New Zealand.

MoMA PS1 in New York presents The Innovator's Dilemma until August 2015, the first museum exhibition to survey the artist’s recent projects and his first large-scale US museum solo show. The exhibition adopts the architectural typology of an industry tradeshow, staging literal platforms for content drawn from various recent bodies of Denny's work.


Commisioner Heather Galbraith is Associate Professor at Whiti o Rehua School of Art, in the College of Creative Arts Toi Rauwharangi, Massey University, Wellington. Before that, she was a Senior Curator at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, and at City Gallery Wellington. She was the inaugural Director/Curator of St. Paul St Gallery, AUT University, Auckland. Galbraith co-curated Francis Upritchard’s exhibition for the 2009 Venice Biennale and was New Zealand’s Deputy Commissioner in 2009 and 2013.


Curator Robert Leonard is one of New Zealand’s most experienced contemporary art curators and writers. Leonard has held curatorial positions in New Zealand at the National Art Gallery, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, Dunedin Public Art Gallery and Auckland Art Gallery, and has directed Artspace, Auckland, and the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane. He recently returned to New Zealand to take up the role of Chief Curator at City Gallery Wellington.

Media enquiries to:

Sarah Pomeroy | Senior Communications Adviser | Creative New Zealand

M +64 (0) 27  677 8070 | sarah.pomeroy@creativenz.govt.nz