Thousands of renowned (and aspiring) artists,
curators, writers, collectors, and anyone else
significantly interested in contemporary art
recently converged from around the world for the
opening of the 53rd Venice Biennale.
In addition to the main international exhibition,
Making Worlds, which features 90 artists, there
are 77 countries with their own pavilions and 44
collateral events from a range of organisations.
Included in the collateral exhibition Glasstress is
Elam School of Fine Arts graduate Hye Rim Lee,
who appears alongside such international
luminaries as Louise Bourgeois and Mona Hatoum.
This year Creative New Zealand has selected
two artists to represent New Zealand: Francis
Upritchard and Judy Millar. Millar’s project
Giraffe-Bottle-Gun will be installed in Santa Maria
Maddalena, the only circular church in Venice,
which has existed on the site in various forms since
at least 1222. Giraffe-Bottle-Gun, named from
oddly-shaped long-necked canvases leaning
against the walls surrounding the large looping
installation at the heart of the installation,
interrupts the spaces between the viewer, the
architecture and the art.
Simon-Peter was created specifically to help
raise funds for New Zealand’s presence at Venice.
It is named after St Peter, who initially refused to
wash Jesus’ feet at the last supper, a scene
painted in 1547 by Venetian late Renaissance
master Tintoretto. It echoes Millar’s enthusiasm
for Italy’s heritage of palaces, cathedrals and
frescoes, in which painting plays an active role in
the environment. It is an interest that was sparked
during a year she spent in Turin in 1990 studying
Italian artists of the 1960s and 1970s who
combined baroque space with gestural painting.
Millar graduated from Elam with an MFA in
1983 but became disillusioned with the
relationship between life and art so went on to
run several Auckland cafes. She returned to the
University in 1989 to study Italian feminist
authors before receiving an Italian Government
scholarship to study in Turin. On returning to her
West Coast home in Anawhata, she developed
her now-familiar approach to painting, and
teaches at Elam.
Along with Tintoretto, her work has also been
compared to that of movie director Quentin
Tarantino. The accompanying text for a pivotal
exhibition at the New Gallery in 2005 stated that:
“If Tarantino makes action movies about action
movies, Millar makes action painting about action
painting.” She works in a large, gestural manner
that recalls the heroic expressionist paintings of
the 1950s but in lurid colours. More importantly,
instead of splashing and dribbling, Millar’s
paintings take a more reductive approach, wiping
away layers to deconstruct the work, revealing new
spaces beneath and placing tension on the
Simon-Peter is the second work of Millar’s to be
acquired for the collection after See-See, which was
produced in response to one of the University’s
Frances Hodgkins paintings for a 2002 staff
exhibition at the Gus Fisher Gallery, the same year
she won the Wallace Art Award.