Te Papa considers pricey Biennale artwork

20:59, Mar 09 2013
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2013 Venice Biennale entrant Bill Culbert.

Te Papa has not ruled out buying the New Zealand offering at this year's so-called "Olympics of the art world" in Venice, raising the eyebrows of some who describe the event as a public money-go- round.

The Venice Biennale, held every two years, is one of the largest stages in art. Curators, dealers and the world's press descend on the Italian city for five months to buy, sign and celebrate the latest breakthroughs in contemporary art.

In June, Europe-based Kiwi Bill Culbert will exhibit his work there as New Zealand's official offering.

Art insiders say it is a worry when Te Papa buys a Biennale work because taxpayers are effectively paying for a work "twice" - once through the $650,000 Creative New Zealand subsidy offered to the artist to create the work and secondly through Te Papa, which then pays the artist for the work.

Forty per cent of a purchase usually goes to the artist's dealer. Biennale commissioner Jenny Harper said this not only went towards shipping of the work but also towards venue hire for the duration of the show and funding travel and accommodation for unpaid attendants who man the exhibition.

A group of patrons raise about $350,000 independently to help the artist produce the work.


A "piecemeal" offering went to the artist out of what remains, Harper said.

Last year Te Papa bought Michael Parekowhai's work On First Looking into Chapman's Homer, which was exhibited at the 2011 Venice Biennale - a bright red Steinway piano decorated with Maori carving and polished paua - for $1.5 million.

This represented the majority of its yearly acquisitions budget.

One dealer said he hoped the New Zealand taxpayer contribution would be taken into account if Te Papa showed an interest in Culbert's piece.

Culbert's large-scale works are situated around the world and New Zealand.

The Wellington Sculpture Trust bought a piece of his SkyBlues in 2005 for $215,000.

Culbert's Venice work, Front Door Out Back, will feature various large-scale fluorescent lighting works through various spaces in a building on the city's Grand Canal.

Te Papa's acting senior art curator Sarah Farrar said it always looked for key works to add to the collection and the works of the Venice Biennale were no different.

She said there was no policy to buy work from the Biennale but once Te Papa curators had seen Culbert's work they would assess its potential for acquisition.

It already has a large number of works by Culbert.

- Sunday Star Times

Sunday Star Times