'Ethics' behind patron's withdrawal of Biennale support

NICKY HAGER: The author was picked as a specialist adviser to artist Simon Denny whose project Secret Power will ...

NICKY HAGER: The author was picked as a specialist adviser to artist Simon Denny whose project Secret Power will represent New Zealand at the Venice Biennale.

Ethics – not politics – appear to be behind a prominent art patron's decision to reallocate her financial support for New Zealand's representative at the Venice Biennale.

Dame Jenny Gibbs confirmed today she "did not approve" of Dirty Politics author Nicky Hager's attendance as a specialist adviser to the New Zealand exhibition at the international art event. However, she said speculation she had withdrawn funding from the general patronage pool because of her politics – she is major donor to the Act Party – were incorrect.

Creative New Zealand confirmed in August that Hager would travel to Venice as an adviser to artist Simon Denny whose biennale project Secret Power takes its title from a 2006 book by Hager on the role and international standing of New Zealand's intelligence work.

"I just want to set the record straight," Dame Jenny said. "I am, in fact, still supporting the biennale. I'm paying for an assistant curator, rather than my money going into the general pool.

"It is true I don't approve of Nicky Hager going, but that's because I don't approve of people living off stolen emails.

"It has absolutely nothing to do with politics. I would have the same feeling if they were taking Cameron Slater, or, for that matter, if it was the year Nicky did the 'Corngate' book. I just don't support people living off stolen emails and I don't care who that is."

Hager's book Dirty Politics drew heavily on emails that Cameron Slater, who blogs under the name Whaleoil, said were stolen from his account.

Dame Jenny said regardless of how Hager obtained the emails, he "did well out of publishing them".

She would not confirm how much money she was contributing to the assistant curator's position, but said the amount was "pretty much the same" as she had contributed to last year's event.

The Gibbs' decision was first reported by Wellington art bloggers Jim and Mary Barr (the latter of whom will co-edit Denny's Venice exhibition catalogue). They asked: "What would it take to make someone who has been Commissioner, lead patron and key sponsor for New Zealand's presence at the Venice Biennale spit the dummy? In the case of Jenny Gibbs, it sounds like it was a return airfare to Venice. Oh, did we mention it was for Nicky Hager …"

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The Barrs' blog said rich list family the Friedlanders (who have yet to comment) had also left the patron's group, but "the Venice boat has been rocked too many times for it to be swamped by a couple of the crew jumping overboard".

A recent Metro magazine profile on Denny said the artist's work had become politicised in a way he had not anticipated, referencing Gibbs and her Act sponsorship.

Dame Jenny said she hadn't spoken until now, "because I don't want to undermine the fundraising for Venice. It was my personal and private decision, which I'm entitled to . . . what the relevance of my supporting Act has to do with it, I have no idea".

She said Denny was a "terrific artist and I think he will do us proud at Venice".

Hager declined to comment today. Simon Denny, who is based in Berlin, said "when and how patrons give support to such projects is entirely their prerogative. I do know that Dame Jenny Gibbs is generously supporting an assistant curatorial role, something which I am very grateful for."

Creative New Zealand funds around $700,000 towards New Zealand;'s participation in the biennale, with another $300,000 coming from private patrons.

A spokesperson for the Government agency said patrons' support was "highly valued and always critical for the artist's work . . . It is still very early in the fundraising process for 2015 and we have not yet published a confirmed list of patrons.  Many patrons have yet to commit and it is not unusual for the make-up of the patrons group to change between projects."

 - Stuff

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