Bill Culbert
Front Door Out Back

1 June–24 November 2013

Istituto Santa Maria della Pietà (La Pietà)

Commissioner: Jenny Harper
Project Manager: Creative New Zealand, Arts Council of New Zealand

Renowned New Zealand sculptor, photographer and installation artist Bill Culbert is showing eight site-specific works at the New Zealand Pavilion for the 55th International Art Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia.

Commissioned by Creative New Zealand, the Arts Council of New Zealand, Culbert’s light installations fill the Istituto Santa Maria della Pietà (La Pietà), a lagoon-facing venue which includes an outdoor courtyard and a spacious corridor where Vivaldi once taught violin.

“Combining light and things with rare economy, Culbert produces art that is austere, poetic and challenging in the way it invites us to revalue familiar things and focus our perceptions,” says Commissioner Jenny Harper.

On arrival the visitor is confronted with Bebop, a 15-metre-long work suspended from the ceiling of the historic corridor, where 34 second-hand tables and chairs seem to have been lifted and spun through the space, each one pierced by a single bolt of fluorescent light. In another key work, Daylight Flotsam Venice, Culbert feeds 150 fluorescent tubes into a densely packed field of recycled plastic bottles creating a carpet of colour, seen against the backdrop of the canal beyond.

“Step into Bill Culbert’s Front Door Out Back and you enter a living space of an unusual kind, a sculptural meditation, played out through eight connected spaces, on shelter, habitation and dwelling,” says exhibition curator Justin Paton. “This house-load of objects is unsettled and energised, thwarted and animated, by an unstable force—light.”

Culbert (b. 1935) is a pioneer of the use of electric light in art, making works that harness the qualities of this most intangible of mediums from as early as the 1960s. Over a career spanning almost six decades and more than 100 solo exhibitions, he has pushed the frontiers of art through a rigorous, inventive and economic use of materials.

Light is both medium and subject matter in his sculptures, installations and photographs, the means of mounting a philosophical enquiry into the art object and its materiality. Culbert’s sculptural installations make striking use of found and new materials, illuminating the qualities of common things and their surrounding environments.

Photo: ©