Kaipara Harbour, New Zealand
Kaipara Harbour, the largest harbour in the Southern Hemisphere is not the prettiest of harbours. When the tide goes out, the shallow mudflats, lumpy grey-brown mounds peer out from the ever-expanding mangrove forests, which hug the coastline. The surrounding countryside generally looks wind-battered, thanks to the prevailing westerly wind, which sweeps viscously across the ridges, gullies and flatlands. When the westerly is on full-blast the harbour’s great body of water becomes agitated, creating tidal rips that ensue havoc on inexperienced boaties.
We had stepped out of the car, walked across to a ridge, which overlooked a large portion of the 1,000-acre Gibb Farm. Calling this architecturally contoured and perfectly manicured landscape dotted with incredible sculptures a farm is perhaps indicative of Alan Gibb’s sense of humour. It was only the icy southwesterly blast, causing me to reach into my pockets for a beanie and the view of native forested rolling hills in the distance that anchored Gibbs Farm and myself to the Kaipara.
I was fortunate to be included in a party of ten, which had a booking for the monthly public open day. Gibbs Farm only opens monthly by prior appointment to artists, educational institutions, charities and the public. The open days attract people from all around New Zealand. The event is so popular it is currently fully booked to May 2015.
One of our party suggested Alan Gibbs opens up this property, which he bought in 1991 to the public to view his private collection of mostly commissioned sculptures because he has a conscience. Gibbs and business partner Trevor Farmer through their investment company Freightways, made the bulk of their fortune in the New Zealand government’s 1990s Telecom privatisation. The New Zealand Herald quotes Gibbs, as saying “And there it was: the greatest coup of my business career, the chance to make serious money,” when they relieved the government’s of the state-owned enterprise, Telecom in1990 and thus pulled off the sale of the century. If you interested in reading about this coup, Gibbs gives his version of the deal in Serious Fun: The Life and Times of Alan Gibbs, written by Paul Goldsmith.
It might sound trite however, given we only had four hours and that farm staff start hustling out the visitors just before the 2pm closing time, I wasn’t interested in recounting the past. I wanted to get walking. I wanted to get up close and personal with these monster size works of art. Nineteen sculptures, real giraffes, the monkey-island; dotted, housed and a work-in-progress.
Art, for me is both an affair of the heart and the mind. My all-time favourite paintings are Brett Whitley’s Lavender Bay and The balcony 2; if the latter is not on display at the New South Wales Art Gallery when I visit I get that heavy-sinking heart feeling. I walked away from Gibbs Farm with two pieces, which I’m still mesmerised by and two, which I’m in awe of.
Anish Kapoor – Dismemberment, Site 1 2009
From the moment I saw the large upended red trumpet skillfully balanced between two mounds of land I was enthralled. It looked like the giant version of the ear trumpet the doctor would place on my belly to listen to my unborn baby’s heart.
This architectural work, which composes of a vast PVC membrane stretched between two giant ellipses, was a huge hit with the viewing public. From the ridge near Graham Bennetts, Sea / Sky Kaipara they looked like ants. Watching the scene of people staring in amazement at Kapoor’s flesh-like sculpture
I was reminded of the giant in Gulliver’s Travels.
Walking underneath this suspended sculpture was a surreal experience.
At the flatter end of the trumpet I looked down through the membrane; thankful it was straight. If it had been downward slanting it may have created its own magnetic force pulling me into its void; creating an Alice in Wonderland experience.
Neil Dawson – Horizons 1994
I’m a huge Dawson fan however, this work which for me takes the concept of the corrugate iron curtain in Rosalie Gascoigne’s Pink Window 1975 and opens it up to the horizon is sheer genius.
In movie Sam Mendes movie American Beauty there is a beautiful scene of the character Ricky using a camcorder to film a plastic bag floating in the wind. Watching the wind take the lead, pick up the bag and carry was hypnotic. This is the effect Dawson’s upwardly blowing curtain achieved on a cloudy day.
Dawson’s two-dimensional sculpture through its placement on the curve of a hill and the openness of the upward curving steel is an extension of the horizon; mesmerising viewing on a cloudy day.
Zhan Wang – Floating Island of the Immortals 2006
From afar this shiny stainless steel sculpture gave the impression of a miniature iceberg; one that had broken free and was now free to roam. Up close Wang’s immortals felt as though they were emerging from a deep sleep, rising up out of the pond in an effort to regain life.
On the day of our visit the pond was sheltered from the westerly with only a slight breeze touching the water therefore, the island looked as though it was barely moving. Thankfully the sun was shining for on a stormy day when the clouds are almost black I imagine the Floating Island of the Immortals would be quiet ghoulish.
Richard Serra – Te Tuhirangi Contour 1999 / 2001
A few months ago I got to walk through Serra’s The Matter of Time 1994 – 2005, at the Guggenheim, Bilbao. Seven sculptures, all of circular nature either Serra’s relatively simple double ellipse to the more complex spirals, which like a maze have space for the viewer to walk through its walls. As some of the walls lean in unexpected ways, walking around them caused me to feel claustrophobic.
Walking alongside Te Tuhirangi, which leans out by 11 degrees from the vertical gave me a similar feeling. However, because the line seemed more continuous I also got this heavy feeling of oppression and was very glad when I got to the end.
In an era when New Zealanders lament the sale of land to foreign ownership, Gibbs Farm makes a positive statement. It may appear to be the folly of an eccentric businessman however Gibb’s art collection and his exotic animals gave pleasure to all that were lucky enough to have tickets to view.Further photos (copyright images) can be found on the Gallery page.