In conjunction with the recent acquisition of in Pursuit of Venus [infected] (2015) by New Zealand artist Lisa Reihana, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are mounting the first presentation of this work in the continental United States. Panoramic in format, the animated, digital scroll is a moving image interpretation of the 19th-century French scenic wallpaper Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique (Native Peoples of the South Pacific). Its exhibition at the de Young is accompanied by the complete set of the wallpaper and an 18th-century folio with engravings of scenes from captain James Cook’s travels in the Pacific Ocean—also part of the museums' holdings.
“Challenging the Dufour wallpaper’s imperialist conception of the encounter between Captain Cook, his crew and the Pacific Islanders, in Pursuit of Venus [infected] reclaims history to present the story from the perspective of the Pacific cultures,” says Claudia Schmuckli, Curator in Charge, Contemporary Art and Programming at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.“ Drawing on Tā-Vā, a concept of spiraling time and space, Lisa Reihana offers a nuanced and revisionist understanding of the complexity of cultural identity shaped by colonialism.”
The 80 ft wide video moves through 80 live-action vignettes, projected onto a utopian Tahitian landscape, asking the viewer to consider how images shape our understanding of history. Western and indigenous actors are cast to recreate both historic events and cultural traditions that connect past and present in a living tableaux. The accompanying soundscape includes dialogue, chanting and singing in several Pacific languages.
“in Pursuit of Venus [infected]—presented with the French wallpaper on which it is based, plus Cook voyage engravings that inspired the historic wallpaper design—invites visitors to experience and reflect upon how the Pacific was represented and imagined in the 19th century by Europeans. 200 years later, in her extraordinary video, Lisa Reihana has revised the narrative and accompanying images to critique notions about Pacific culture and history that originated with the European voyages of exploration of the 18th century and persist even today,” explains Christina Hellmich, Curator in Charge of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
Lisa Reihana: in Pursuit of Venus [infected] is co-organized by Christina Hellmich, Curator in Charge of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, and Claudia Schmuckli, Curator in Charge, Contemporary Art and Programming; with Martin Chapman, Curator in Charge of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture. in Pursuit of Venus [infected] (2015) was acquired collectively by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2019.
About Lisa Reihana
Of Māori and British descent, Reihana reexamines colonial history, disrupting gender, time, power, and representational norms through her work. Her practice spans film, sound, photography, spatial design, live-action, costume, and sculptural form. Her art making is driven by a connection to community, which informs her collaborative working method described as kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face). She completed a master’s in design from the School of Visual Art and Design, Unitec, in Auckland in 2014 and graduated with a bachelor of fine arts from Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland, in 1987. Reihana has an extensive exhibition history, including most recently the Royal Academy of Arts, London; Musée du Quai Branly, Paris; the Brooklyn Museum, the Venice Biennale; the Honolulu Biennial; and the 2017 Venice Biennale.
About the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco oversee the de Young, located in Golden Gate Park, and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park. It is the largest public arts institution in San Francisco, and one of the most visited arts institutions in the United States. Reflecting a conversation among cultures, perspectives, and time periods, the collections at the de Young include American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts; art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; costume and textile arts; and modern and contemporary art.