The director of the Tauranga Art Gallery asks, “What’s all the fuss about?”

I’ve just been to the Venice Biennale. It was incredible, the best one yet. That Hirst guy’s art was mind-blowing,” says a friend.

These are not the words I want to hear! There is often a perception that directors of art galleries are always jetting off on glamorous trips to see new art, but that’s not the reality. So, when you are reminded that you have missed one of the most anticipated exhibitions in the universe, it’s hard not to feel jealous.

THE VENICE BIENNALE IS ONE OF THE WORLD’S LARGEST, OLDEST, AND MOST PRESTIGIOUS ART EVENTS. Every two years, from May to November, the tourist hotspot is overtaken by the art world. Alongside the art stars and their gallery dealers, are crowds packed with what I call the four C’s – collectors, critics, celebrities, and the creatively curious.

THIS YEAR’S EVENT WAS SUPER-HYPED, MOSTLY DUE TO EXPECTATION ABOUT ONE OF THE BIGGEST ART STARS OF THEM ALL, DAMIEN HIRST. Even if you don’t know his name, you would have seen pictures of his dissected cows oating in formaldehyde, or noticed the media storm surrounding his diamond-encrusted skull that sold for $100 million.

rom Damien Hirst’s Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable. Photos: Nigel Borrell

HIRST HAS ONCE AGAIN CREATED A JAW-DROPPING SPECTACLE. It’s been described by critics as “immaculate, big-budget tastelessness” and “trophy hunting for wealthy collectors”. It features over 190 works in gold, silver, bronze, and precious stones, with monumental 60-foot-tall bronze statues, giant marble sculptures encrusted with coral, and a solid-gold unicorn skull.

IT’S EASY TO BE IN AWE OF THE PHENOMENON – it’s one of those exhibitions that people will talk about for decades to come. But what am I really missing? It’s been called “a critical success”, “a major op”, and “one of the worst exhibitions of contemporary art staged in the past decade”. But is this just another example of clickbait? Is it the result of an amazing media machine, or is it actually worth seeing in real life? With rumours of $100 million budgets, and over $500 million in sales, it seems that it’s less about the work and more about the money. All of the measures of success are there, but it begs the age-old question – is this another example of style over substance?

IN TAURANGA, WE RECENTLY ENJOYED THE SUCCESS OF PARADOX: TAURANGA STREET ART FESTIVAL, which performed better than anyone could have hoped for. As someone with an intimate knowledge of how much work it was to put it together,

I know for a fact that Paradox was very much about substance. The 50,000 visitors who saw it agreed. So, maybe I don’t need to travel to the other side of the world for a once-in-a-lifetime experience – maybe we can create our own big buzz, right here in Tauranga.


Tauranga Art Gallery,

Corner of Wharf and Willow Streets, Downtown Tauranga.