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Simon Denny’s Secret Power opens in Venice

6 May 2015

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New Zealand’s pavilion for the 2015 Venice Biennale celebrated the official opening last night of artist Simon Denny’s much anticipated exhibition Secret Power. The opening was held at the historic Marciana Library in San Marco Square, one of two venues chosen by the Berlin-based Aucklander for his exhibition.  

The Venice Biennale is the world’s largest and most prestigious contemporary arts event and the New Zealand pavilion is split across two sites: Marco Polo Airport, on the outskirts of Venice and the monumental rooms of the Marciana Library. Visitors arriving at the airport have been able to experience the first part of the exhibition, in the arrivals lounge, since it was installed last week.

“We congratulate Simon on an incredible undertaking,” says Dr Dick Grant, Chairman of the Arts Council of New Zealand. “He has pulled off not one, but two jaw-dropping installations for this exhibition in very different, but perfectly chosen venues. It’s exciting to finally see them unveiled.”

“Interest in this year’s New Zealand pavilion has already been phenomenal,” says Commissioner Heather Galbraith. “Simon Denny has a significant international profile and we’re sure Secret Power will be visited by many and much-discussed. The exhibition fits very well with the over-arching theme of the Biennale this year, All the World’s Futures.”

In Secret Power, Denny offers a unique perspective on the visual culture of the Five Eyes—the alliance between the intelligence agencies of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In reflecting on the documents that the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden began leaking in 2013, Secret Power also makes reference to aspects of contemporary and historical Venice.

In the Airport’s arrivals lounge, recreations of the Marciana’s richly painted ceilings span the floor, offering a unique chance to view the symbolism and iconography within these works, which were state-commissioned in the 16th century. A series of plaques, profiling historical maps and mapmakers from the Library’s collection, extends into international territory, greeting travellers as they pass through security into the city. 

In the Marciana Library, server racks of the kind used in data-collection facilities contain sculptural interpretations of visuals used by elite intelligence agencies to represent operations and communicate complex programs. As a case study, he has presented interpretations of work found on the public Behance and LinkedIn profiles of former NSA (National Security Agency) creative director David Darchicourt. 

Denny says, “While Darchicourt cannot be linked conclusively to any of the documents leaked by Snowden, the works displayed on his public Behance portfolio bear striking visual resemblance to content found in the Snowden slides. Darchicourt presents us with a uniquely human perspective from which to begin unpacking this clandestine visual world.”

“In the Snowden slides and the Darchicourt designs, there are depictions of maps, magicians, and soldiers that draw on fantasy culture, military history, and internet meme culture,” he says. “For me, they resonate in an amazing way with the allegorical paintings in the Marciana, which also use fantastic symbols for complex ideas. In both, images of weapons, soldiers, and philosophers stand in for the importance of the military, duty, and knowledge. It’s amazing how connected these two visual languages can feel, side by side.” 

Galbraith says, “Along with other designs, Secret Power includes a large map of New Zealand that Denny commissioned from Darchicourt without reference to its use in the exhibition—an act that hints at the complexities of gathering and presenting intelligence.” 

Curator Robert Leonard says, “Denny’s project is a puzzle. Each element is reframed by other elements in an expanding allegory. And yet, despite this complexity, Denny gets us close to his explicit subject—the mindset of the intelligence agencies. Pointedly, he places himself and us (as artist and viewers) in positions similar to these agencies, as we trawl through data and metadata, engaging in analysis, pattern recognition, and profiling, trying to make sense of things.”

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 from Liv Barrett, Lonti Ebers, Danny and Lisa Goldberg, Friedrich Petzel, Jackson Tang, and others.

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

Visit NZ at Venice on Facebook.

Notes to Editors:

Venice Art Biennale
The Venice Biennale is the leading international event for contemporary visual arts. More than 80 countries participate in the six-month exhibition, which last year attracted more than 470,000 visitors. 

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. 

From 3 April to 31 August 2015, MoMA PS1 in New York presents The Innovator's Dilemma, 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. 

Simon Denny’s work has been extensively written about and reviewed including in the New York Times, Focus, Frieze, Artforum, Modern Painters, Monopol, Mousse and Süddeutsche Zeitung. 

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. 

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