19 Sep 2016

This content is tagged as Visual arts .


Te Papa shows world acclaimed Secret Power artworks for the first time in New Zealand

Te Papa has opened a display of works by New Zealand artist Simon Denny, which were part of his world-acclaimed Secret Power exhibition at the 2015 Venice Biennale.

The spectacular installation at Te Papa includes a full-scale photo reproduction of the Renaissance library where the works were first displayed, covering the floor and wall of the gallery. Within this highly-decorated space, the four glass cabinets contain hundreds of individual elements, from tiny 3-D -printed cellphones and computer monitors, to a Terminator-style metal skull, and full size taxidermied eagle.

Berlin-based Denny is a rising star of the contemporary art scene, with works in major international institutions including New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Secret Power addresses issues of mass surveillance, national identity and international security. It draws on the National Security Agency documents leaked by Edward Snowden, and takes its name from a 1996 book by Nicky Hager, about New Zealand’s involvement in the “Five Eyes” intelligence network.

Secret Power was New Zealand’s entry the 2015 Venice Biennale, the world’s premiere contemporary art exhibition. Te Papa acquired four of the works for a total of $750,000 in September 2015.

“We seized the opportunity to acquire these major works by a New Zealand artist with a formidable international reputation,´ says Te Papa Chief Executive Rick Ellis.

“Te Papa is a forum for challenging conversations, and we are excited to bring these thought-provoking works to the public.”

The four works take the form of server-rack displays (cabinets normally used for holding computer servers). In each glass cabinet are different components including interpretations of documents, slides, and design elements from information released by Edward Snowden. The works were originally installed in the historic Marciana Library in Venice, and a reproduction of the library’s interior is part of the exhibition as installed at Te Papa.

Videos about Secret Power at Te Papa

Secret Power is on show at Te Papa until February 2017. Admission is free. 

Media contact: Te Papa Communications Manager Kate Camp 029 601 0180


The works on display at Te Papa

  • Modded Server-Rack Display with Some Interpretations of Imagery from NSA MYSTIC, FOXACID, QUANTUMTHEORY, and Other SSO/TAO Slides.
  • Modded Server-Rack Display with Some Interpretations of Various Map Depictions from Snowden-Leaked Slides.
  • Modded Server-Rack Display with Some Interpretations of Imagery from NSA TREASUREMAP Slides.
  • Modded Server-Rack Display with Some Interpretations of Imagery from GCHQ, The Art of Deception Slides.

Simon Denny

Berlin-based Simon Denny was born in Auckland in 1982 and studied at the University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts and at Frankfurt’s Städelschule, graduating in 2009. In 2012, Denny was nominated for the Walters Prize and won the Baloise Art Prize at Art Basel. He was the only New Zealand artist invited to exhibit in the curated show at the 2013 Venice Biennale.

Denny’s work is has been exhibited and is held in major public and private collections, including Te Papa, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, and Dunedin Public Art Gallery.  Denny’s work has been included in shows at major European arts institutions, such as the ICA, London; KW Center for Contemporary Art, Berlin; Fridericianum, Kassel; and the Centre Pompidou, Paris.

On 8 September 2016 Denny opened his latest exhibition, Blockchain Future States, at the Petzel Gallery in New York, looking at the encrypted internet currency known as Bitcoin.

International media

ARTnews: Simon Denny, Representing New Zealand, Exposes the Language of State Surveillance (link is external) “…incisive, and surprisingly humorous ...easily one of the strongest national pavilions in Venice this year.”

The Wall Street Journal: Three Standout Exhibits at the Venice Biennale (link is external)   “At this year’s Venice Biennale, Invisible Borders Trans-African Project, Simon Denny’s ‘Secret Power’ and Walker Evans’s photographs are among the pick of the crop.”

The Guardian: Simon Denny, the artist who did reverse espionage on the NSA (link is external)  “The Marciana Library in Venice is one of the world’s great repositories of humanist knowledge…. Now, that hall is temporary home to another meditation on the accrual of information.”

Bloomberg: Ten Reasons Non-Art People Should Care About the Venice Biennale (link is external)  “Berlin-based, New Zealand-born Simon Denny is having an art-world moment.”

How Biennale works are selected, funded and acquired

Creative New Zealand funds and manages New Zealand’s presence at Venice, but does not buy the artworks. Galleries and collectors can buy works once the Biennale is finished. 

  1. Artists are selected by the Arts Council (the governing body of Creative New Zealand), and a Commissioner is appointed to oversee the New Zealand presence at Venice.
  2. Creative New Zealand funds New Zealand’s presence at the Biennale. This is not the same as purchasing the works, which remain the property of the artist. The total Creative New Zealand funding for 2015 was $700,000. The bulk of this was for creation and installation of the works, venue hire, staffing, transport, insurance etc. over the seven months of the Biennale. A modest sum went to the artist.
  3. Art galleries and museums, including Te Papa, have the option to purchase works from the artist, through their dealer. Te Papa negotiated  with Denny’s New Zealand dealer Michael Lett to secure first right of refusal to the Venice works, and opted to purchase four works, for a total of $750,000. 

Te Papa and the Venice Biennale

New Zealand has had an official national pavilion at the Venice Biennale since 2001. Te Papa has acquired works displayed as part of the New Zealand pavilions at the Venice Biennale in 2001 (Jacqueline Fraser), 2003 (Michael Stevenson), 2009 (Francis Upritchard and Judy Millar), 2011 (Michael Parekowhai) and 2013 (Bill Culbert).