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Te Papa to acquire Simon Denny “Secret Power” works from Venice Biennale

5 September 2015

Te Papa is to purchase four art works by contemporary New Zealand artist Simon Denny, which are part of his acclaimed Secret Power exhibition at this year’s Venice Biennale.

The Berlin-based New Zealander is a rising star of the contemporary art scene, with works in major international institutions including New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

The four works, acquired for a total of $750,000, will come into Te Papa’s collection after the Biennale exhibition closes in November, and are likely to be exhibited at Te Papa in 2016.

“Te Papa is charged with building a collection of national importance for future generations,” says Te Papa Chief Executive Rick Ellis.

“We have seized the opportunity to acquire these major works by a New Zealand artist with a formidable international reputation.”

Mr Ellis says the acquisition will enhance the museum’s collection by artists who have represented New Zealand at the Venice Biennale, the world’s leading exhibition of contemporary art.

Denny’s Secret Power exhibition addresses contemporary issues of privacy, mass surveillance, national identity and international security.

It draws on the United States National Security Agency documents leaked by Edward Snowden, and takes its name from a the title of a 1996 book by New Zealander Nicky Hager, about New Zealand’s involvement in the “Five Eyes” intelligence network.

The four works take the form of server-rack displays (cabinets normally used for holding computer servers). In each cabinet are different components including interpretations of documents, slides, and design elements from information released by Edward Snowden. The works were installed in the historic Marciana Library in Venice.

Te Papa’s Senior Curator Art, Sarah Farrar, says the works will provoke debate and discussion about issues of importance to New Zealanders.

“These works allow us to address issues of global importance from a local perspective,” says Ms Farrar.

“They are Denny’s most ambitious works to date, and have a strong connection with New Zealand.”

Secret Power has been acclaimed by international and New Zealand media, and there has been a high level of interest from international institutions and private collectors in acquiring the works.

Te Papa is a key partner with Creative New Zealand on the Venice Biennale. Creative New Zealand funds New Zealand’s presence at Venice, but does not buy the artworks. Galleries and collectors can buy works once the Biennale is finished.

The four works acquired by Te Papa are titled:

  • Modded Server-Rack Display with Some Interpretations of Imagery from NSA MYSTIC, FOXACID, QUANTUMTHEORY, and Other SSO/TAO Slides.
  • Modded Server-Rack Display with Some Interpretations of Various Map Depictions from Snowden-Leaked Slides.
  • Modded Server-Rack Display with Some Interpretations of Imagery from NSA TREASUREMAP Slides.
  • Modded Server-Rack Display with Some Interpretations of Imagery from GCHQ, The Art of Deception Slides.

Media contact

Te Papa Communications Manager Kate Camp 029 601 0180

 

Background

How Biennale works are selected, funded and acquired

Creative New Zealand funds New Zealand’s presence at Venice, but does not buy the artworks. Galleries and collectors can buy works once the Biennale is finished. 

  1. Artists are selected by the Arts Council (the governing body of Creative New Zealand), and a Commissioner is appointed to oversee the New Zealand presence at Venice.
  2. Creative New Zealand funds New Zealand’s presence at the Biennale. This is not the same as purchasing the works, which remain the property of the artist. The total Creative New Zealand funding for 2015 was $700,000. The bulk of this was for creation and installation of the works, venue hire, staffing, transport, insurance etc. over the seven months of the Biennale. A modest sum went to the artist.
  3. Art galleries and museums, including Te Papa, have the option to purchase works from the artist, through their dealer. Te Papa negotiated  with Denny’s New Zealand dealer Michael Lett to secure first right of refusal to the Venice works, and has opted to purchase four works, for a total of $750,000. 

Te Papa and the Venice Biennale

New Zealand has had an official national pavilion at the Venice Biennale since 2001. Te Papa has acquired works displayed as part of the New Zealand pavilions at the Venice Biennale in 2001(Jacqueline Fraser), 2003 (Michael Stevenson), 2009 (Francis Upritchard and Judy Millar), 2011 (Michael Parekowhai) and 2013 (Bill Culbert).

Simon Denny

Berlin-based Simon Denny was born in Auckland in 1982 and studied at the University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts and at Frankfurt’s Städelschule, graduating in 2009.

In 2012, Denny was nominated for the Walters Prize and won the Baloise Art Prize at Art Basel. He was the only New Zealand artist invited to exhibit in the curated show at the 2013 Venice Biennale.

Denny’s work is has been exhibited and is held in major public and private collections, including Te Papa, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, and Dunedin Public Art Gallery.  

Denny’s work has been included in shows at major European arts institutions, such as the ICA, London; KW Center for Contemporary Art, Berlin; Fridericianum, Kassel; and the Centre Pompidou, Paris.

Simon Denny on Secret Power

Simon Denny says of the work: ‘‘We’re at an unprecedented moment, where technology plays a really large part in our lives. And it becomes increasingly visible how much power is concentrated in the hands of those who define that technology. Technology, now particularly, seems to be a good window to look at where the concentration of power and wealth is in the world.’’

Where the work was shown in Venice 

Works by Denny at the Biennale were shown in two sites in Venice: Marco Polo Airport, and at the Marciana Library in Piazza San Marco, designed by Jacopo Sansovino during the Renaissance. The works acquired by Te Papa were shown in the Marciana Library.

International media

ARTnews: Simon Denny, Representing New Zealand, Exposes the Language of State Surveillance “…incisive, and surprisingly humorous ...easily one of the strongest national pavilions in Venice this year.”

The Wall Street Journal: Three Standout Exhibits at the Venice Biennale   “At this year’s Venice Biennale, Invisible Borders Trans-African Project, Simon Denny’s ‘Secret Power’ and Walker Evans’s photographs are among the pick of the crop.”

The Guardian: Simon Denny, the artist who did reverse espionage on the NSA  “The Marciana Library in Venice is one of the world’s great repositories of humanist knowledge…. Now, that hall is temporary home to another meditation on the accrual of information.”

Bloomberg: Ten Reasons Non-Art People Should Care About the Venice Biennale  “Berlin-based, New Zealand-born Simon Denny is having an art-world moment.”

Work no. 1: Modded Server-Rack Display with Some Interpretations of Imagery from NSA MYSTIC, FOXACID, QUANTUMTHEORY, and Other SSO/TAO Slidesis an internally-lit computer server display stand containing material related to the NSA’s Special Source Operations, including a large 3D version of its ominous ‘eagle and globe’ logo, and mass surveillance data-mining programmes such as Mystic, Foxacid, and Quantumtheory.

Work no. 2: Modded Server-Rack Display with Some Interpretations of Various Map Depictions from Snowden-Leaked Slides (2015)is aninternally-lit computer server display stand containing etched glass representations of Snowden slides featuring map images.

Work no. 3: Modded Server-Rack Display with Some Interpretations of Imagery from NSA TREASUREMAP Slides (2015) is an internally-lit computer server display stand containing material related to the NSA’s Treasuremap programme, which seeks to create a world map of connected devices.

Work no. 4: Modded Server-Rack Display with Some Interpretations of Imagery from GCHQ, The Art of Deception Slides (2015)is an internally-lit computer server display stand containing items relating to the Snowden leaked documents about the UK’s GCHQ’s training presentation, ‘The Art of Deception’.