Thursday, November 26, 2015

Cast of one

The decision-making process of the selection panel for the Venice Biennale is not open to the public. We've never heard a convincing reason as to why this should be necessary, but this year, with 10 members, it started opening up anyway. By piecing together bits of information a picture of what went on can be suggested.

It was always going to be tough to get a decision out of such a large and diverse group of panelists. The mix was four curatorial, one artist, two fund-raisers, three arts council members, and a commissioner (a former chair of Creative NZ) who had the casting vote. In past years the curatorial voice was more dominant and in some memorable instances the commissioner just cut to the chase and made the call.

Our understanding is that this time there was a fifty-fifty split among the panelists and that a long and stressful debate ensued. There was always going to be mixed opinions about how a work so focused on eighteenth century colonisation was going to play in a Europe nearly two more years into coping with ongoing waves of refugees, leaking borders and terrorist assault. One version of events has at least one panel member so upset by the process they left the room.

Given the weighting of Creative NZ representatives and doing some arithmetic, we suspect that the fund-raisers probably voted for a different project. Getting money in is a huge and growing challenge for NZ at Venice. It was why there were two fundraisers/ patrons on the panel after all. The government contribution via Creative NZ is only part of the story. For instance, for the Denny outing it was the dealers who coughed up for the crucial networking party, the lavish catalogue as well as other costs along the way. In past years the ever-generous Jenny Gibbs has offered strong financial support so all eyes will be on Alastair Carruthers who apparently secured Reihana’s place with his casting vote.