SIGHT SPECIFIC

Curatorial Art Practice in London

Bill Culbert: FRONT DOOR OUT BACK at the Venice Biennale

Bill Culbert’s exhibition at the Venice Biennale is one of the most spectacular and yet intimate experiences that you will encounter in Venice.

The artist plays with three large interconnected spaces, separated by a garden and a courtyard, making a seamless itinerary and a succession of wonder.

Bill Culbert, 'Where are the other two?', The New Zealand Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale. Courtesy of NZ Creative, photo by J. French

Bill Culbert, ‘Where are the other two?’, The New Zealand Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale. Courtesy of Creative NZ, photo by J. French

Entering the aisle of the Church of La Pietà is breathtaking. A suspended ceiling of table and chairs, each traversed with a white fluorescent tube, dancing above our heads is at first exhilaratingly disorientating. The installation has a rhythm of its own, at the same time lyrical, humorous, rigorous and sensual. It produces a subtle uplifting of the building itself, a derelict ecclesiastical corridor with plaster falling off its sides. It is both moving and inspirational. At the entrance, the suspended construction Drop opens like a direct reference to the Murano glass chandeliers and the flamboyant history of Venice.

Bill Culbert, 'Drop' and 'Bebop', 2013, The New Zealand Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale. Courtesy of Creative NZ, photo by J. French

Bill Culbert, ‘Drop’, 2013, The New Zealand Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale. Courtesy of Creative NZ, photo by J. French

With this magical introduction Bill Culbert work leads us to a large old door, opening onto a garden leading to a palazzo. This open space is turned into a gem thanks to Daylight Floatsam, a luminous floor piece.  Now Culbert invites us to reconsider the space from our feet onwards, just as he was keeping our heads up earlier.  The assemblage of neon and plastic bottles has its own transcendent effect. As the light of Venice changes and days and nights roll on, so the glow adds tones and nuances to an ever-changing environment. Daylight Floatsam is like a delicate drawing in space that intensifies as the light diminishes, and transforms time and space.

Bill Culbert, 'Daylight Flotsam Venice', 2013, The New Zealand Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale

Bill Culbert, ‘Daylight Flotsam Venice’, 2013, The New Zealand Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale. Courtesy of Creative NZ, photo by J.French

This space has its own wooden pier and a gate to the canal. Boats and gondole slow down at the sight of the work. In the doorway to the small wooden pier, Culbert has placed another work merging with the environment. Level, a series of large bonbonnes (objects of collection for all connoisseurs of long past wine traditions) half filled with water, are creating a new choreography. By optical effect the canal is reflected upside down inside the recipients, boats passing one way are reflected passing the other way. The whole of Venice seems captured by these containers.

Bill Culbert, 'Level', 2013, The New Zealand Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale. Courtesy of Creative NZ, photo by J. French

Bill Culbert, ‘Level’, 2013, The New Zealand Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale. Courtesy of Creative NZ, photo by J. French

Bill Culbert, 'Strait', 2013, The New Zealand Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale. Courtesy of NZ Creative, photo by J. French

Bill Culbert, ‘Strait’, 2013, The New Zealand Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale. Courtesy of Creative NZ, photo by J. French

In the courtyard adjacent to the palazzo, a waterproof Hut gives another clue to the minimal language used by these awesome installations. The structure does not appear symbolic, but rather a series of lines expressing a totality. Next to it, a room opens to a majestic series of big, cladded outdoor fluorescents delicately running through furniture of a certain age and patina. This contrast gives them a magisterial allure. The whole experience is rich and inspiring, a resume in a nutshell of the extraordinary spirit of a young 78 years old.

Bill Culbert, 'HUT, Made in Christchurch', 2013, The New Zealand Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale

Bill Culbert, ‘HUT, Made in Christchurch’, 2013, The New Zealand Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale. Courtesy of Creative NZ, photo by J. French

Bill Culbert, 'Walk Reflection' and 'Wlak Blue', 2013, The New Zealand Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale, installation view. Courtesy of Creative NZ, photo by J. French

Bill Culbert, ‘Walk Reflection’ and ‘Wlak Blue’, 2013, The New Zealand Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale, installation view. Courtesy of Creative NZ, photo by J. French

This prompted Sir Nicolas Serota to open the exhibition with a raving speech on the artist.

“I’ve been an admirer of Bill’s for many years, and I have seen his work in many of the smaller, more adventurous, what one might describe as the more intelligent galleries in the United Kingdom, whether it is at the Camden Art Centre, where I remember seeing it in the late sixties, or at Acme, and the Serpentine, in the 70’s, Coracle, publisher of this book, have been a consistent supporters of Bill, or 3 or 4 years ago, an important installation at Peer.

[…]

I’ve been an admirer of Bill’s modesty, of his subtlety, but above all of his consistency.  His eye is a very special eye.  It is an eye that can see in a fresh way, as anyone who looks at his photographs will be aware.  They stand in comparison with his mentor Moholy-Nagy, with Brassai, or indeed with the Beckers.

[…]

His mind can use the discarded in a world that only values the new.  It is a mind that can make a poetic combination of the old and the new.”

Bill Culbert, 'Daylight Flotsam Venice' reflected in window with 'Level', 2013, The New Zealand Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale. Courtesy of Creative NZ, photo by J. French

Bill Culbert, ‘Daylight Flotsam Venice’ reflected in window with ‘Level’, 2013, The New Zealand Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale. Courtesy of Creative NZ, photo by J. French

BILL CULBERT: FRONT DOOR OUT BACK
The New Zealand Pavilion
55th International Art Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia
Commissioner: Jenny Harper
Creative New Zealand, Arts Council of New Zealand, Toi Aotearoa Venue: Istituto Santa Maria della Pietà (La Pietà) http://www.nzatvenice.com/

See Blouin ArtInfo review VENICE REPORT: Bill Culbert’s Sensational Light Art for New Zealand, at Blouinartinfo.com

All photos are courtesy of Creative New Zealand. Photographer Jennifer French

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© Laurent Delaye Gallery, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Laurent Delaye Gallery with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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