Venice Biennale The New Zealand pavilion

Bill Culbert installs his light-themed works in the Istituto Santa Maria della Pietà for the Biennale
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From Bill Culbert's Front Door Out Back (2013)
From Bill Culbert's Front Door Out Back (2013)

There are no big statements or chunks of theory accompanying Bill Culbert's installation, Front Door Out Back, in the New Zealand Pavilion at Istituto Santa Maria della Pietà, a fourteenth century hospice, orphanage and music conservatoire beside the Lagoon, on a well-trodden thoroughfare between San Marco and the Giardini in Venice.

The 78-year-old artist has installed nine pieces in the waterside venue; these mainly consist of fluorescent tubes, second-hand furniture, and plastic containers, among other items, in a series of sculptures which seem to have more to do with the building and the city, alongside the artist's stated wish to introduce "an energy and simplicity" into the building, rather than any great highbrow theorising or wooly social commentary.

 

From Bill Culbert's Front Door Out Back (2013)
From Bill Culbert's Front Door Out Back (2013)

Indeed, Culbert seems to have responded to Venice's ornate charms with modesty and thrift. The artist - who is known for using lights in his work - says that the installation was conceived on-site, partially in response to Venice's incredible proximity to the sea - "sea level is land level" marvels the artist. "Walking through the Pietà complex and seeing the canal through the doors, straight to the water, was magic. There was also the sound - no cars and not many boats either. My notebook started filling fast with drawings."

 

From Bill Culbert's Front Door Out Back (2013)
From Bill Culbert's Front Door Out Back (2013)

Culbert's reuse of old furniture and utilitarian lighting is in part influenced by the austere Italian movement, Arte Povera. "A throwaway society," he says,  "That's pretty dumb." Yet there's nothing antique about his work. Rather than competing with the fine, old loveliness of Venice, his sculptures and installations seem to light and question the medieval space, with familiar objects hung from the ceiling, and strip lights illuminating old plaster in surprising new ways.

 

To find out more about Culbert's Venice installation go here. For more on the use of artificial light take a look at our book on Art and Electronic Media, and for more on Arte Povera, consider our magisterial overview.


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