The Gibbs’ Farm has long held a mythical pull over me. If you drive the alternative route from Wellsford, on the way to Auckland, you can glimpse a snaking red wall of steel, but beyond this, this private sculpture park is closed to the public. So I was giddily excited when I heard that as part of Auckland Architecture Week (26 September – 2 October), the Farm would be opened as a charity event to support Christchurch architects.
With a programme of commissioning one piece a year, Alan Gibbs has created a phenomenal collection of large, outdoor sculptures over the past 20-odd years. Many works are by New Zealand sculptors, but there are also a few distinctive works by international superstars. That Corten steel contour by Richard Serra is one of these. So is the red fabric structure by Anish Kapoor. The scale of the works is overpowering, and Gibbs himself explains that, “Essentially everything here is the biggest art work the artist has ever done. It is a very demanding landscape.” These structures in a windswept landscape are architectural and engineering feats as much as artistic concepts, and so it makes sense that Gibbs’ son in law and prominent architect Noel Lane is also very involved with the commissioning and structural problem solving of each piece.
The day we visited was near perfect. Mostly sunny, but windy, it meant that if you sat in a small depression in the landscape it felt like summer, but also, the kenetic sculptures – George Rickey’s Two Rectangles or Len Lye’s Wind Wand, in particular, were in their element on the blustery day.
I had a lot of expectation, and as so often happens, expectation can lead to disapointment. Not this time, however. It reminded me why sculpture is such a powerful medium. It is, by its nature, three dimensional, and for this reason, a photo of a sculpture, no matter how good that shot might be, can never encapsulate the volume and intensity of seeing it in person. Pieces I didn’t expect to like became surprise favourites, like Sol LeWitt’s Pyramid. And even the much-hyped works, Neil Dawson’s Horizons, Kapoor’s Dismemberment, Site 1, or Serra’s Te Tuhirangi Contour, impressed far more in person than I was expecting. It was a wonderful experience to see some of these works up close, and I just hope that there might be more opportunities for the park to be opened to the public in the future.