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Venice Biennale beckons for NZ arts ambassadors

Venice Biennale beckons for New Zealand arts ambassadors

Four "arts ambassadors" selected from public art galleries in Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin and Wellington will each spend six weeks working as gallery attendants at the New Zealand exhibition, This is the Trekka, at the 50th Venice Biennale of Art.

The Venice Biennale, widely acknowledged as the most important visual arts event in the world, opens on 12 June and continues until November 2003. New Zealand is participating in this event for the second time, this time with the work of artist Michael Stevenson.

Representing Stevenson's work and acting as arts ambassadors in the New Zealand pavilion will be Jennifer French, Gallery Photographer at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tämaki; Robyn Notman, Visitor Programmes Co-ordinator, Dunedin Public Art Gallery; Rebecca Wilson, Assistant Curator at the City Gallery Wellington; and Felicity Milburn, Curator of Contemporary Art, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu.

Creative New Zealand is working in partnership with the City Gallery Wellington to present the New Zealand exhibition in Venice. It is also providing the travel costs, accommodation and modest stipends for the arts ambassadors, who will work as gallery attendants at the New Zealand pavilion from 10am to 6pm, five days a week.

Elizabeth Kerr, Chief Executive of Creative New Zealand, says the arts ambassadors were selected from a field of high-calibre candidates working in a range of art institutions throughout New Zealand.

"We're delighted to be able to offer this exciting professional development opportunity to both up-and-coming and established gallery staff," she says.

At the 2001 Venice Biennale, Creative New Zealand also supported three curators to work as gallery attendants at the New Zealand pavilion. An evaluation of that support showed there were considerable professional development benefits for the curators. Visitors to the New Zealand pavilion also valued their interpretative role and knowledge of New Zealand arts and culture.

Jennifer French (in Venice from 30 May to 14 July), Gallery Photographer at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tämaki, has been photographing Michael Stevenson's work for the past 15 years.

"I'm very familiar with Michael's work and the evolution of his career," she says. "I'm fascinated by his latest project and well-placed to represent his work in Venice."

This will be the first time Jennifer French will have attended a biennale and she says that working as a gallery attendant will be a valuable professional development experience. Along with her photography skills, she has a masters degree in fine arts and is keen to build on her knowledge in this field.

She says it will also open a door for another photographer to work at the Auckland Art Gallery in her absence. "Development opportunities are rare for professional photographers in art galleries and museums."

Robyn Notman (in Venice from 11 July to 22 August), Visitor Programmes Co-ordinator, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, grew up on a farm on the Otago Peninsula where the Trekka was a familiar sight. "Our neighbours were very proud of their Trekka but I thought they looked a bit like a Tonka toy. They sat rather oddly among the other farm vehicles of the time."

When she heard about This is the Trekka, the exhibition captured her imagination - a sturdy, functional vehicle as the centrepiece of an installation inside a neo-classical church in Venice.

Notman, who says she has a "long-standing love affair with Italy and its art", is excited about the challenge of working in a new environment, connecting with people from a range of countries, backgrounds and institutions, and presenting New Zealand's arts and culture within that very different environment.

Rebecca Wilson (in Venice from 19 August to 30 September), Assistant Curator at the City Gallery Wellington, says it's a "great privilege" to represent New Zealand and interact with visitors to the New Zealand pavilion. "This is an incredible professional development opportunity for me," she says. "I'll be seeing amazing art firsthand, and meeting some of the artists and art professionals who descend on the Biennale every two years. Supported opportunites like this are rare in the visual arts and I feel very fortunate.

"The experience will open up my mind, in terms of current visual arts practice and also where my career might take me."

Felicity Milburn (in Venice from 26 September to 10 November), Curator of Contemporary Art, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, says the opportunity to live and work right in the middle of an event like the Venice Biennale is a dream come true. "I visited the 1999 Biennale and so I know what a high-profile, spectacular art event it is. I'm looking forward to experiencing the Biennale 'from the inside' and meeting as many artists, curators and writers as possible."

She is especially excited by the chance to help present Michael Stevenson's "intriguing and challenging" exhibition in the eighteenth-century Venetian church, La Maddelena.

The Vernissage (preview) of the 50th Venice Biennale of Art runs from 12 - 14 June and is attended by thousands of international artists, curators, critics, gallery directors and collectors.

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