Secret Power

Simon Denny

New Zealand Pavilion Venice Biennale
9 May - 22 November, 2015

clouds pasted

NZ at Venice 2015 project

Creative New Zealand, Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa is pleased to announce that Simon Denny will be New Zealand’s artist for the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015.

“Simon Denny is the most high-profile New Zealand artist in the international art world today. His work is rich, intelligent, and challenging. We are confident it will be compelling in the context of the Venice Biennale.”

– Heather Galbraith, New Zealand Commissioner for the 2015 Venice Biennale

Denny’s exhibition Secret Power will address the intersection of geography and power and the ownership of knowledge. Robert Leonard, one of New Zealand’s most experienced contemporary art curators, will be the curator.

“The Venice Biennale represents an incomparable opportunity for New Zealand artists to show their work on the world stage. It is the world’s largest and most prestigious international contemporary art exhibition, attended by key curators, writers, and collectors, attracting enormous public interest.”

– Dr Dick Grant, Chairman, Creative New Zealand Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa

The Venice Biennale is the leading international event for contemporary art. In 2013, it attracted more than 475,000 visitors, including the 30,000 curators, critics, collectors, dealers, and artists attending its three-day Vernissage preview. In total eighty-eight countries participated—including ten for the first time. In 2015, the Biennale will open on 9 May and run until 22 November.

The Biennale’s national representation operates through a government-to-government invitation. New Zealand’s presentation is managed by Creative New Zealand, Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa, whose financial commitment to Secret Power will be $700,000 over two financial years.

New Zealand’s history at the Venice Biennale

More at

Project team

Commissioner: Heather Galbraith

Commissioner: Heather Galbraith

Heather Galbraith is Head of Whiti o Rehua School of Art, in the College of Creative Arts at 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

Robert Leonard is Chief Curator at City Gallery Wellington. He previously held curatorial positions at Wellington’s National Art Gallery, New Plymouth’s Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, and Auckland Art Gallery and directed Auckland’s Artspace and Brisbane’s Institute of Modern Art. He co-curated Michael Stevenson’s exhibition for the 2003 Venice Biennale.

Project Manager: Jude Chambers


Jude Chambers joined Creative New Zealand, Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa in 2005. As Manager International Special Projects and Cultural Exchange, she delivers international projects and initiatives. This includes New Zealand’s participation in the Venice Biennale and NZ at Edinburgh 2014, the WW100 Co-Commissioning Fund, and Te Manu Ka Tau (the international visitors’ programme). In her previous role as Senior Programme Adviser, she managed the Visual Arts portfolio and worked on New Zealand’s 2009 and 2011 Venice Biennale projects, project managing Bill Culbert’s Front Door Out Back in 2013.

Other team members

  • Artist’s Representatives: Michael Lett and Andrew Thomas
  • Audience and Market Development Adviser: Rose Campbell
  • Catalogue Editors: Robert Leonard and Mary Barr
  • Communications (Creative New Zealand, Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa): Helen Isbister, Matt Allen, and Sarah Pomeroy
  • Content Adviser: Nicky Hager
  • Assistant Curator: Alex Davidson
    (This role is generously supported by Dame Jenny Gibbs)
  • Designer: David Bennewith
  • Project Administrator: Cassandra Wilson
  • Senior Manager, Arts Policy, Capability, and International (Creative New Zealand, Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa): Cath Cardiff
  • Exhibition Manager: Diego Carpentiero
  • Website Developer: Christoph Knoth

With additional support provided by Creative New Zealand’s Business Service team.

Exhibition Attendants

Attendants will be based in Venice for six weeks at a time to assist the supervision and promotion of Secret Power.

Simon Denny

Simon Denny

Photograph: Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff

Simon Denny was born in Auckland in 1982 and is based in Berlin. His work has explored technological obsolescence, the rhetorics of Silicon Valley and tech start-ups, and technology’s role in shaping global culture and constructions of national identity. He is interested in the role of design in communication, particularly in user-interfaces. His exhibitions combine sculptures, graphics, and moving images.

Denny studied at the Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland and at Frankfurt’s Städelschule, graduating in 2009. His work is regularly exhibited in New Zealand and is held in its major public and private collections, including the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, and Dunedin Public Art Gallery. His work is also held in major international collections, including MUMOK in Vienna, the Astrup Fearnley Museum in Oslo, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Denny’s solo exhibitions include All You Need Is Data: The DLD 2012 Conference Redux  (Kunstverein Munich; Petzel Gallery, New York; and Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, 2013); and The Personal Effects of Kim Dotcom (MUMOK, Vienna, 2013; and Firstsite, Colchester, 2014). These exhibitions were positively reviewed in the The New York Times, Focus, Frieze, and Süddeutsche Zeitung. In 2014, Denny presented New Management at the Portikus, Frankfurt, and showed a new version of The Personal Effects of Kim Dotcom at the Adam Art Gallery, Wellington. Denny’s work has also been included in group shows at the ICA, London; Kunsthaus Bregenz; KW Center for Contemporary Art, Berlin; Fridericianum, Kassel; and Centre Pompidou, Paris. He was the only New Zealand artist invited to exhibit in the curated show at the 2013 Venice Biennale. In 2012, Simon Denny won the Baloise Art Prize at Art Basel. A solo survey exhibition at MOMA PS1, New York, is planned for early 2015.

Secret Power was unanimously selected from eighteen high-calibre proposals. Chaired by Arts Council Chairman, Dr Dick Grant, the selection panel included Heather Galbraith, Commissioner; Alastair Carruthers, patron; Anne Rush, Arts Council member; Blair French, Assistant Director, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney; Brett Graham, artist; Caterina Riva, Director, Artspace, Auckland; Dayle Mace, patron; Helen Kedgley, Arts Council member; and Judy Millar, artist.


Leigh Melville, Head of Patrons, and Heather Galbraith, the Commissioner, invite your support for New Zealand’s presentation at the world’s most prestigious art biennale. For donations of $5,000 and more, you can become a member of an exclusive group, the Patrons of the Venice Biennale 2015. In recognition of your support, you can enjoy a rare opportunity to be part of New Zealand’s presence in Venice.

You will be offered:

  • Two tickets for the three-day Vernissage preview (Tuesday 5 May – Friday 8 May), which is attended by VIPs, media, and arts professionals. A limited number of tickets is available to each participating country.
  • A copy of the Secret Power catalogue.
  • Name acknowledgement in promotional materials in Venice and in New Zealand.
  • Invitations to openings and ceremonies.
  • A limited-edition Simon Denny artwork: Prism Slide iOS7 Redesign, FAZ 2014 (colour photograph, 44 x 31.5cm).

For more information, contact Leigh Melville
+64 (021) 406 678

Head of Patrons Leigh Melville

Image 4 Leigh Melville

Leigh Melville has worked in dealer galleries since the late 1990s. In 2007, she joined the founders of Art + Object in establishing their new auction house in Auckland. She manages the art department. Melville believes in the power of patronage. She is President of the St Cuthbert’s Old Girls’ Association, raising funds for scholarships for those who may not otherwise have the opportunity to attend.

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the NZ at Venice Patrons.

History of NZ at Venice

New Zealand has exhibited at the Venice Biennale since 2001. New Zealand artists who have exhibited at the Biennale are:

  • Bill Culbert (2013)
  • Michael Parekowhai (2011)
  • Judy Millar and Francis Upritchard (2009)
  • et al. (2005)
  • Michael Stevenson (2003)
  • Peter Robinson and Jacqueline Fraser (2001)

For all of these New Zealand artists, the Biennale has led to greater national and international profile and opportunities.

2013: Bill Culbert

Image 5 Bill Culbert Level

Bill Culbert, Level, 2013, photo: Jennifer French

Celebrated New Zealand sculptor, photographer and installation artist Bill Culbert exhibited his work at the 2013 Venice Biennale. Culbert’s exhibition, Front Door Out Back, featured eight installations using fluorescent lights and recycled domestic objects to transform the historic Instituto Santa Maria della Pietà (La Pietà) on the busy thoroughfare between San Marco and the Giardini.

Daylight Flotsam Venice and Drop are now in the collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, and Bebop was purchased by Christchurch Art Gallery.

Commissioner: Jenny Harper, Deputy Commisioner: Heather Galbraith, Curator: Justin Paton.

2011: Michael Parekowhai

Image 6 Michael Parekowhai - Chapman's Homer (2)

Michael Parekowhai, Chapman’s Homer, 2011, photo: Michael Hall

On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer, Michael Parekowhai’s sculptural installation, included one intricately-carved red Steinway concert grand piano and two concert grands fabricated in bronze supporting two cast bronze bulls. The installation also featured a figure from the Kapa Haka series (Officer Taumaha) and two small bronze olive tree saplings (Constitution Hill). The carved piano was played during the exhibition. The work toured to Paris, Christchurch and Wellington following the Biennale.

He Korero Purakau mo te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river, the ornately-carved grand piano which formed the centrepiece of On First looking into Chapman’s Homer, is now in the collection of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

Commissioner: Jenny Harper

2009: Judy Millar and Francis Upritchard

New Zealand’s participation in 2009 comprised two exhibitions: Judy Millar’s installation, Giraffe-Bottle-Gun and Francis Upritchard’s installation, Save Yourself. Both works returned home to New Zealand in February 2010 for a four month exhibition at Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.


Judy Millar, Giraffe-Bottle-Gun, 2009

Judy Millar’s exhibition was housed in the Neo-Classical structure La Maddalena, the only circular church in Venice. The largest piece in Millar’s exhibition, sited in the centre of the church, was a painting in the round, bulging and intruding into the viewer’s space. In other parts of the church oddly shaped canvases leant against the walls, and stretched to the ceiling.

Since the Biennale in 2009, Judy Millar has continued to exhibit internationally, and her work in collections includes Auckland Art Gallery, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Christchurch Art Gallery, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Kunstmuseum and St Gallen, CAP Art, Dublin. Judy Millar is also represented in numerous international private collections.

Commissioner: Jenny Harper, Deputy Commissioner: Heather Galbraith, Curator: Leonard Emmerling


Francis Upritchard, Save Yourself, 2009

The installation Save Yourself by Francis Upritchard included clusters of figures and structures spread through three chambers within the Fondazione Claudio Buziol at the Palazzo Mangilli-Valmarana overlooking the Grand Canal. Each grouping occupied an imaginary landscape from an indeterminate historical period. The installation combined the antique and the futuristic, making the scene both familiar and unsettling.

Commissioner: Jenny Harper, Deputy Commissioner: Heather Galbraith, Curators: Heather Galbraith and Francesco Manacorda


In 2007 there was no official New Zealand presentation at Venice. Instead, Creative New Zealand, Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa undertook a study of international visual arts events to assist in developing strategies for the future.

There were two self-initiated New Zealand projects at the 52nd La Biennale di Venezia.

The book, Speculation was published by NZ Venice Project and JRP|Ringier, and featured work by thirty New Zealand artists selected by eight curators. Over 2,000 copies of the book were distributed to vernissage attendees.

Aniwaniwa by Brett Graham and Rachael Rakena was selected to be featured in the Biennale’s Collateral Events section. This work melded sculptural forms with moving images and a haunting soundtrack. It was housed in an ancient salt warehouse in Dorsoduro, one of the six sestieri in Venice. Central to the work was the theme of submersion, as a metaphor for cultural loss. Locally, Aniwaniwa refers to rapids at the narrowest point of the Waikato River by the village of Horahora, where Graham’s father was born and his grandfather worked at the Horahora power station. In 1947, the town was flooded to create a hydro-electric dam downstream and many historic sites significant to Graham’s hapu ‘Ngati Koroki’ were lost forever.

2005: et al

Image 9 et al - the fundamental practice (2)

et al., the fundamental practice, 2005

In 2005 the collective et al. staged the fundamental practice at La Pietà, iterations of which were subsequently shown at the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane and Artspace, Auckland. the fundamental practice continued a process of research and investigation, using techniques of procedure and presentation from other ideological systems – scientific, military, political, revolutionary. Subsequent to et al.’s project at Venice, they were selected to mount altruistic studies within the prestigious Art Unlimited programme at Art 39 Basel 2008.

Commissioner: Gregory Burke, Curator: Natasha Conland 

2003: Michael Stevenson


Michael Stevenson, This is the Trekka, 2003

In 2003 Berlin-based New Zealand artist Michael Stevenson’s project This is the Trekka took up residence in La Maddalena church in Cannaregio (the same venue Judy Millar’s project Giraffe-Bottle-Gun occupied in 2009) to critical acclaim. In his work, Stevenson drew attention to historical moments by reproducing ‘artefacts’. This is the Trekka investigated an attempt by New Zealand to create its own car industry, and the economic links between New Zealand and Czechoslovakia at the height of the Cold War. The Trekka was New Zealand’s only nationally-produced vehicle. It was manufactured in Onehunga, Auckland in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with a chassis and motor imported from Czechoslovakia.

This is the Trekka was acquired by Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa  and was shown in Small World Big Town: Contemporary Art from Te Papa at City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi in 2005.

Commissioner: Jenny Gibbs, Curators: Boris Kremer and Robert Leonard

2001: The first New Zealand Pavilion

New Zealand first mounted an exhibition at the 49th La Biennale di Venezia in 2001. Two individual installations were exhibited at the Museo di Sant’ Apollonia, grouped under the title Bi-Polar – Jacqueline Fraser: A Demure Portrait of the Artist Strip Searched and Peter Robinson: Divine Comedy.

Image 11 - Peter Robinson - Divine Comedy (2)

Peter Robinson, Divine Comedy, 2001

The title of Robinson’s exhibition came from Dante Alighieri’s book Divine Comedy. The exhibition featured a series of sleek sculptures and digital prints (utilising a binary code translation of Dante’s Inferno), based around complex concepts of existence, and drew together unlikely points of reference from quantum physics to Stephen Hawking’s book A Brief History of Time.


Jacqueline Fraser, A Demure Portrait of the Artist Strip Searched, 2001

Jacqueline Fraser’s A Demure Portrait of the Artist Strip Searched comprised drops of Italian damask fabric which formed a maze through which visitors could explore the sculptural and text-based interventions within the maze’s interior. It was the first in a trilogy of installations that continued throughout 2001 at the Yokohama Triennale, Japan and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York.

The two exhibitions were welcomed back to New Zealand in 2003 when they were configured for display at City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi. Jacqueline Fraser’s A Demure Portrait of the Artist Strip Searched is now in the collection of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and was shown in Toi Te Papa.

Commissioner: Jenny Gibbs, Curator: Gregory Burke

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Project Manager

Jude Chambers

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