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New venue for New Zealand at Venice Biennale 2003

Exciting new Venice Biennale venue for New Zealand exhibition: “This is the Trekka”

New venue for New Zealand at Venice Biennale 2003

The work of New Zealand artist Michael Stevenson is to be presented in La Maddelena, an exciting new venue for the Venice Biennale of Contemporary Art.

La Maddelena is an 18th century church, a rare example of neo-classical architecture in Venice. The only round church in the city, with large, imposing pillars reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome, it is an impressive building.

The church has been closed for many years while major restoration of the building and its artworks has taken place - the walls of La Maddelena are lined with priceless paintings, some by the 18th century Venetian artist, Tiepolo. The combination of rare architecture and Renaissance artwork as well as its location on Strada Nova, one of the busiest and widest shopping and walking streets in Venice, make La Maddelena a major tourist destination.

The Venetian public is eagerly awaiting the re-opening of the church with its restored interior for the New Zealand exhibition in June 2003.

“The fact that this unique building is a tourist attraction but has not been open to the public for many years and has never been used before as a venue for the Venice Biennale, will be an additional draw-card for Michael Stevenson’s New Zealand exhibition,” says Elizabeth Kerr, Chief Executive of Creative New Zealand.

This is the Trekka: Michael Stevenson’s work for Venice Biennale 2003

Michael Stevenson will place his installation, This is the Trekka, in direct relationship to the neo-classical architecture of La Maddelena.

In Venice, the city without cars, Stevenson will unpack the story of the intrepid Trekka, hailed as the only New Zealand-made production automobile.

Apart from its Czechoslovakian Skoda engine and chassis, the Trekka was home-grown - a product of Kiwi-can-do inventiveness. Designed for local conditions, this rugged off-road utility vehicle served as a New Zealand alternative to costly imports such as the Land Rover.

Stevenson’s work, This is the Trekka, will present a comparative study of industry and society in New Zealand during the 1960s and 1970s. The centrepiece of the exhibition will be a fully restored Trekka. A range of material, setting the Trekka in a broader framework, will contextualise the work. Built in New Zealand on a Czechoslovakian chassis, the Trekka tells an engaging story: a South Pacific nation trading with a country behind the iron curtain, bartering sheep skins in exchange for Skoda motors.

Michael Stevenson’s exhibition takes the form of a belated promotional display for the Trekka, which has never been seen outside the Pacific and is long out of production. As a wide-ranging metaphor for historical notions of social engineering, This is the Trekka shows how cultural independence and economic interdependence mesh. It will provide an enticing gate of entry into a complex reading of cultural history and a narrative about New Zealand and its relationship to the rest of the world.

Over the past ten years, Stevenson has made fascinating conceptual works that excavate aspects of recent art and social histories. Often, an obscure “history” is placed alongside recognised major historical events. By mixing fact and fiction he challenges viewers, often uncovering or proposing bizarre connections, and leaving them to draw their own conclusions. At the Biennale of Sydney this year, his immaculately researched installation addressed the role of contemporary art in the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.

Speaking of Stevenson’s work Jenny Gibbs, New Zealand Commissioner in Venice, said: “Stevenson’s work fits perfectly with the theme of the 2003 Venice Biennale as it explores the artistic, historical and social contexts in which art is produced.”

Curators for the New Zealand exhibition: Robert Leonard and Boris Kremer

This is the Trekka will be co-curated by Robert Leonard and Boris Kremer. Robert Leonard is one of New Zealand’s most experienced contemporary art curators and art writers. He has worked as a curator for the National Art Gallery, the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. He was Director of Artspace, Auckland’s contemporary art centre for five years. Leonard takes up his new position as Curator of Contemporary Art at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki in March 2003.

Boris Kremer is currently Curator of the International Studio Programme at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin. He has curated a number of exhibitions in Europe, reviews for the net-based publication, Blitzreview, and has translated a number of publications. The New Zealand exhibition at the 50th Venice Biennale 2003 is an initiative of Creative New Zealand working in partnership with City Gallery Wellington. The City Gallery Wellington has expertise in working with visual artists and has an impressive track record in presenting large visual arts shows offshore. City Gallery Wellington will also bring Stevenson’s exhibition to the Gallery and co-ordinate a New Zealand tour of the exhibition.

The Project Manager for the exhibition is Dilys Grant, working with Creative New Zealand and City Gallery Wellington, in conjunction with independent arts management and arts consultancy company Global Art Projects (GAP). GAP managed the New Zealand exhibition in 2001 and has managed Australia's participation at the Venice Biennale since 1999.

Well-known collector and art patron Jenny Gibbs will again be the New Zealand Commissioner, a role vital to the international representation and profile of the exhibiting country.

The Venice Biennale is the most important and oldest international visual arts event in the world and runs from June – November 2003. It was established in 1895 and this is only the second time that New Zealand has been represented at this prestigious event.

Note: Michael Stevenson is looking for archival material about the Trekka for his installation. If any member of the public has photographs of a Trekka or material they think might be of use to the artist please write to him care of Dilys Grant, Project Manager Venice Biennale, City Gallery Wellington, Civic Square, PO box 2199, Wellington. Tel: 04 801 4132.

New Zealand at Venice website:

Michael Stevenson: Biography

Michael Stevenson has been exhibiting regularly in New Zealand since 1988 and is one of New Zealand’s most visible artists on the international stage. Currently New Zealand’s artist-in-residence in Berlin at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, he was a finalist in the 1997 Seppelt Contemporary Art Award and the inaugural 2002 Walters Prize.

He was awarded a Creative New Zealand fellowship in 1995 and his collaborative work involving three other artists, Slave Pianos, was part of the 1999 Toi Toi Toi exhibition of contemporary New Zealand art at the Museum Fridericianum in Kassel, Germany. In 2000, Stevenson was artist-in-residence at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth where Genealogy, a collaborative project with Steven Brower, was presented.

His site-specific work, Call Me Immendorff, was presented at the Kapinos Galerie in Berlin in 2000. An expanded version of this work was shortlisted for the inaugural 2002 Walters Prize at the Auckland Art Gallery. His work, Can Dialectics Break Bricks? was exhibited in the 2002 Biennale of Sydney this May.

Comment from New Zealand Venice Biennale Selection Committee: “Michael Stevenson is one of the sharpest and most successful New Zealand artists working in the international art arena. Stevenson is a passionate archivist of our culture who makes work that playfully probes the New Zealand condition. He creates work that has a strong and immediate impact with diverse audiences. Work that attracts and holds attention. We wanted New Zealand to stand out and to stand for something. We couldn’t go past Stevenson on either count.”

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