Sunday, July 3, 2011

Michael Parekowhai at Palazzo Loredan dell'Ambasciatore

Michael Parakowhai
On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer
Photo at Tate

On First Looking into Chapman's Homer
 Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
 And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
 Round many western islands have I been
 Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
 Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
 That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
 Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
 Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
 Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
 When a new planet swims into his ken;
 Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
 He star'd at the Pacific — and all his men
 Look'd at each other with a wild surmise —
 Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
John Keats

(Venice, Italy) Chords of rapture beckon you along Calle dei Cerchieri, guiding you to the carved red Steinway baby grand piano inside the fondaco, or ground floor, of Palazzo Loredan dell'Ambasciatore. This is where New Zealand's offering for the 54th Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition resides:  the sculptor Michael Parekowhai's installation On First Looking into Chapman's Homer, inspired by John Keat's sonnet, which was inspired by George Chapman's translation of Homer.

Parekowhai says:  "While the objects in On First Looking into Chapman's Homer are important, the real meaning of the work comes through the music. Just as my work Ten Guitars was not about the instruments themselves but about the way they brought people together, performance is central to understanding On First Looking into Chapman's Homer because music fills a space like no object can."

Flavio Villani is the pianist whose magic fingers grace the keys of the red Steinway through July 25. I asked him who was the composer of the piece I liked the most. He said it was his own composition, an improvisation based on a tune he wrote when he was young. Since Flavio did not look very old to me, I asked him how old he was when he wrote it. "Fourteen." Flavio played the simple melody for me, then added chords. He said he was inspired by musicians such as Yann Tiersen and Sergei Prokofiev, Liszt and Chopin. The intricately carved piano is entitled He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river, and is composed of wood, brass, automotive paint, mother of pearl, paua, and upholstery. 

Cat Bauer with Chapman's Homer
Photo by Brando
Outside in the garden is Chapman's Homer, a ballsy bull looming over a closed keyboard from atop a dark concert grand piano composed of bronze and stainless steel. If you sit at the keyboard, he challenges you eye-to-eye. 

Over in a corner, the bronze Kapa Haka (Officer Haka), a life-size statue of the artist's brother as a security guard, frowns through dark sunglasses, stern, arms crossed, disapproving. Perhaps a large, aggressive bull named Chapman's Homer on top of a concert grand piano, staring one in the eyes, makes the officer uncomfortable? A small bronze olive tree sampling named Constitution Hill radiates another message, and looks so life-like I thought it was real.

Inside the foyer by the water door of the palazzo is another dark bronze bull on top of a piano, reclining, entitled A Peak in Darien. The bull's right leg is slightly raised; the eyes send a different challenge than the standing bull. According to Wikipedia, Keats conflated Cortez's first view of the Valley of Mexico with Balboa's first view of the Pacific Ocean, but decided to leave in the historical error because it would have added an extra syllable. In any case, we can imagine that the emotion that any explorer would have upon arriving on long-sought, unknown territory would be one of awe. Eureka!

"At length the Indians assured them, that from the top of the next mountain they should discover the ocean which was the object of their wishes. When, with infinite toil, they had climbed up the greater part of the steep ascent, Balboa commanded his men to halt, and advanced alone to the summit, that he might be the first who should enjoy a spectacle which he had so long desired. As soon as he beheld the South Sea stretching in endless prospect below him, he fell on his knees, and lifting up his hands to Heaven, returned thanks to God, who had conducted him to a discovery so beneficial to his country, and so honourable to himself. His followers, observing his transports of joy, rushed forward to join in his wonder, exultation, and gratitude." 

Jenny Harper, the New Zealand Commissioner wrote: "I am certain that among the range of national presentations in a biennale titled 'ILLUMInations', [Michael Parekowhai's] contribution is timely, compelling and memorable." 

I wholeheartedly agree.

Ciao from Venice,

On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer
Michael Parekowhai
June 4 to October 23, 2011
Tuesday - Sunday 10am to 6pm
Calle dei Cerchieri
Vaporetto: Ca' Rezzonico
photos by Michael Hall at

photo by Rob Kitchin - Evening Post
Michael Parekowhai is of Maori (Ngati Whakarongo) and Pakeha descent. Born in Porirua, New Zealand in 1968, he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (1990) and Master of Fine Arts (2000) from the University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts, where he is now Associate Professor in Fine Arts. In 2001 he was awarded an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate.


  1. Perhaps a large, aggressive bull named Chapman's Homer on top of a baby grand piano, staring one in the eyes, makes the officer uncomfortable?

  2. What amazing piano sculptures! Love the bull on top of the piano. That would make a great piece to have in a music room if I had a place big enough!

    The Wanderfull Traveler