Located on New Zealand’s North Island (about 60 km north of Auckland) lies a 1,000 acre (4 sq km) property owned by one of New Zealand’s wealthiest businessmen, Alan Gibbs. The area is the site of Alan’s private art park known as Gibbs Farm. Open to the public by appointment, the sculpture park features an incredible variety of massive sculptures by some of the world’s most famous artists.
It’s fascinating to see how each artist has incorporated the unique landscape into their work. Almost all of the sculptures in the collection were commissioned new works as opposed to purchased pieces.
The property itself is dominated by the Kaipara Harbour (the largest harbour in the southern hemisphere) which occupies the entire western horizon. The water is quite shallow so when the tide goes out, the shallows are exposed for several kilometres and the light shimmies and bounces off it across the land. Everything in the property flows towards and eventually into the sea; and every work contends in some way with the slide seaward.
After nearly twenty years of development, Gibbs Farm now features over 22 artists from around the world. Below you will find a small gallery of sculptures that caught my eye. For the full list, be sure to check out the official site.
Dawson’s Horizons is one of the earliest sculptures to be commissioned for the Gibbs Farm. Sitting as it does on one of the highest points in the property it is also one of the few works that can be seen from the road. This seems fitting given the way the tromp l’oeil character of the work is suggestive of a giant piece of corrugated iron that might have blown in from a collapsed water tank on some distant farm, only to rest precariously until the next gale lifts it into the air again.
Horizons – 1994 – Welded and painted steel 15 x 10 x 36m [Source]
Leon Van Den Eijkel – Red Cloud Confrontation in Landscape
Tried and true colour harmonies based on the three primary colours of red, yellow and blue, are pitted against what van den Eijkel calls his “Pacific colours” in a dialogue between European modernism and the southern hemisphere environment. The work also pits itself against the gradient and colour gradations of the farm’s green slopes with its precise articulation of a true horizontal plane, the grid and of perfect squares; and through its composition of solid colours floating on their pure black plinths.
Red Cloud Confrontation in Landscape – 1996 – 25 cast formed and painted concrete cubes 17.5 x 17.5m [Source]
Each Gibbs Farm sculpture rewards the viewer who will walk up to and around them; and Thompson’s work elegantly offers a different red, or black, or red and black abstract composition with every circumnavigating step. On the one hand the work epitomises the cool restraint of minimalist abstract modernism with its precise proportions and clean lines. Yet the land and light imbue it with an expressive character that swings from the mystery of the impenetrable void formed from its black side to the exuberant red side when seen in afternoon light.
Untitled (Red Square/Black Square) – 1994 – 4 units of welded and painted steel 4 x 4 x 5.7m [Source]
LeWitt’s distinctive concrete block works, which first appeared in 1985, are at once sculpture, monument and architecture. A leading figure in the history of Minimalism and then Conceptualism, LeWitt was intrigued by the various modular permutations possible through the repetitious use of the simple cube form. The minimalist aesthetic of the monumental Gibbs Farm work’s lies in various intriguing paradoxes: it is comprised of many small units (the concrete blocks) and yet it is a single form (the pyramid); it is conceptually simple but perceptually complex; and while it is unequivocally sculpture, its scale and form are highly suggestive of architecture.
Pyramid (Keystone NZ) – 1997 – Standard concrete blocks 7.75 x 16 x 16m [Source]
Composed of a vast PVC membrane stretched between the two giant steel ellipses, Kapoor’s work is architectural, and yet it also has a fleshy quality which the artist describes as being “rather like a flayed skin”. The fleshy dark red membrane that this work shares with two earlier temporary works commissioned for the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall (refers to Joan of Arc). Kapoor has commented, “I want to make body into sky”. At the farm he achieves this. Here, the artist had to devise a form that was both freestanding and capable of surviving a constant arm-wrestle with the sky and the mercurial weather conditions.
Dismemberment, Site 1 – 2009 – Mild steel tube and tensioned fabric West end 25 x 8m, East end 8 x 25m. Length 85m [Source]
Built with stone quarried in Lead Hills, Scotland not far from where Gibbs’ forebears came from, and formed from ancient Roman arches, this work looks back along lines of genealogy, migration and architectural traditions. But the sculpture also has an immediacy derived from the gradual weathering of the stone by water, wind and fetch on the tidal flats, which brings the viewer face-to-face with the ever-changing character and power of its surroundings and the here and now.
Arches – 2005 – Pink Leadhill sandstone blocks stacked into 11 freestanding arches. Each arch is 7m long with each block 1.4m² [Source]
Eric Orr, a pioneer of the California Light and Space Movement of the late 1960s, was an artist whose works centred on natural phenomena such as fire, water and vapour clouds with the intention of eliciting visceral responses from viewers. Gibbs asked Orr to add lightning to his repertoire by commissioning him to create a huge sculpture that would throw lightning bolts. There was little in the way of engineering precedents to draw on and the result was the largest Tesla coil in the world on a tower four storeys high that generates three million volts of electricity. The primeval artificial lightning it creates is a fitting tribute to Orr as it is his last major work, as well as standing in homage to the pioneer electrical engineer Nikola Tesla.
Electrum (for Len Lye) – 1997 – Tesla coil, stainless staeel electrode on a fibreglass column support on a concrete base with tiled black granite 3 x 3 x 14m [Source]
Roche’s work with its long bright red lances of LED interspersed through the Eucalyptus grove is certainly the most significant light work by this artist; and one of several striking light-based works in the collection. Here on the farm Roche has been granted the scale and conceptual scope to devise a work that is at once a primitive and visceral reminder of untameable nature; and yet also a playful evocation of a festive gateway to the Wild West.
Saddleblaze – 2008 – 100 LED units of varying lengths 1.1km [Source]
The movement of this smaller of the two Rickey sculptures seems skittish, random and chaotic; constantly teetering; though in very high winds it mimics nature and acting like a palm tree lies flat against the wind. This chance element in the work’s composition is reminiscent of the Dada movement’s experiments with spontaneity and the irrational, and especially of Arp’s collages made by scattering torn rectangular pieces of paper onto a paper support.
Column of Four Squares Eccentric Gyratory (III) – 1990 / 1995 – 4 stainless steel squares 9 x 9 x 15m [Source]
The work bridges an artificial lake and marks the culmination of her cube-skeleton series, which range in size from tiny brooches to monumental forms. At the time that de Goey received this commission she had not undertaken any work of such a scale, and as a result, scaling the work up from her small models relied on the expertise of the engineering team at the farm, thus demonstrating the way in which Gibbs operates as collector, commissioner and often-times producer of the art works.
The Mermaid – 1999 – Welded and painted tubular steel 10 x 3 x 32m [Source]
Even though the geometric and repetitive facts of this sculpture are in marked contrast to the organic contours of the site, its surfaces mean that in certain lights the work almost disappears against the sky. However, at other times it appears to harvest the moody, reflective and translucent qualities of the harbour’s watery surfaces, the glancing sunlight and salt-laden air. Of the inspiration for this site specific work Graham Bennett said “I was impressed by the changing nature of the estuary, its reflections, its colours and its relationship to the sky.”
Sea/Sky Kaipara – 1994 – 4 tri-part stainless steel and glass units 2 x 2.1 x 25m [Source]
Snelson’s sculpture, intended “to unveil the exquisite beauty of structure itself,” is delicately held together by the tension between its rigid pipes and flexible cables; a form of structure which the artist calls “floating compression.” The work is one of several examples in the collection that expresses Gibbs’ long-standing love of abstract minimalism as well as his passion for the kind of structural problem solving that can, in the best cases, result in elegant form.
Easy K – 2005 – Aluminium and stainless steel 6.5 x 6.5 x 32m [Source]
Serra’s 56 steel plates lean out by 11 degrees from the vertical and trace a single contour line across the land in a way that, in the artist’s words, “collects the volume of the land.” The work is a hallmark of the strong relationships formed between collector and artist. Serra says of meeting Gibbs, “The first thing he said to me was ‘I’ve just been to Storm King [which has Serra’s Schunnemunk Fork 1990-91] and I want a more significant piece than that. I don’t want any wimpy piece in the landscape.’”
Te Tuhirangi Contour – 1999/2001 – 56 Corten steel plates 252m x 6m x 50mm [Source]