Half of New Zealand present for opening of national pavilion

Living in Europe, we haven't encountered that many New Zealanders in one place in a long time. It started this morning in the vaporetto, where we bumped into writer Anthony Byrt, artist Steve Carr and curator Aaron Kreisler on our way to the launch of the New Zealand exhibition for the 2017 Venice Biennale.

Once inside the Arsenale, we made our way to the NZ pavilion and as the room quickly filled up, it became evident just how many people and institutions have been involved in making this happen. In the midst of sponsors, organisers, officials, supporters and press, we spoke with senior curators from Te Papa and Auckland Art Gallery, as well as some of the 150 patrons who have made the trip to be here.

In the absence of a waka, Lisa Reihana and the New Zealand Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy arrived outside the venue on Venice’s largest gondola, helmed by 18 rowers. The historic boat, which has carried previous national emissaries through Venetian waterways, was intended to reference the voyaging themes depicted in Reihana's panoramic video work in Pursuit of Venus [infected].

The crowd was ushered indoors before Reihana walked in, accompanied by a karanga. Official speeches were given by Dame Patsy Reddy, who opened the pavilion, commissioner Alastair Carruthers and Arts Council Chairman Michael Moynahan. Highlight of the proceedings, artistic director of the Royal Academy of Arts, Tim Marlow, delivered a concise yet humorous speech in which he addressed the elephant in the room saying, "I'm not just a post-colonial guilt figure here". Marlow then announced that in Pursuit of Venus will be included in a major Oceanic art exhibition at the Royal Academy in 2018 and at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris in 2019.

All images: Contemporary HUM