January 18, 2024

Down on the Farm. The incredible private outdoor sculptures of a New Zealand multi-millionaire

What would you do if you became a multi-millionaire? Buy a Ferrari, a yacht, maybe a bigger house? Or just buy a massive farm and fill it with gigantic outdoor sculptures by some of the worlds best modern artists and let exotic animals roam the grounds. This is what the reclusive New Zealand businessman Alan Gibbs chose to do.

Gibbs made his money wheeling and dealing in transport companies and most lucratively in the privatization of New Zealand Telecom in which he had a substantial stake. With his new400-hectarefound wealth he purchased a 400 hectare (900 acres) block of land in Kaipara Harbour, 47 Km north of Auckland. He built a large home by the sea and filled the landscape with giant works from local and overseas artists. 

It was not just a case of sticking pieces of art all over the farm without any thought. He worked with the artists to incorporate the landscape into the art itself, and even to change the landscape when necessary to make the art more spectacular. This is particularly noticeable in Anish Kapoor's Dismemberment Site I, a massive ear trumpet that required a hill to be cut in half to place it to great visual effect. 

Alan Gibbs home, artificial lake with boat and the sea based Arches by Andy Goldsworthy

Although a very private man, Gibbs was persuaded to share his beautiful farm with the public. He does this very much on his own terms. opening it for approximately 4 random days a year and not making a profit by granting access to selected charities to sell limited numbers of tickets to use to aid their funding.

I had wanted to see Gibbs Farm for a number of years but could not match the occasional openings with me being able to fly to  New Zealand.  So when it was announced that on a Friday in November, Gibbs Farm was to be open to the public on behalf of the Skin cancer charity Melanoma New Zealand I immediately bought a ticket (it sold out a few days later) and arranged flights.

It was an easy drive up the coastal road and there was already a small queue of vehicles waiting to get in 15 minutes before the official opening time (10:00 to 16:00). Once in, with a map in hand it was time to explore the private sculpture garden. Despite typical New Zealand weather, cloudy skies with warm sun and then a torrential downpour about every thirty minutes, it was an easy walk past the Giraffes, Yak, Zebra and Bison, not roaming free today, to the sculptures.

The Trumpet, officially known as Dismemberment I by Anish Kapoor

I loved Anish Kapoor's Trumpet, or Dismemberment Site I as it is officially known, a piece that is associated with GIbbs Farm in almost every photograph about it, including this blog! And it does not disappoint. About thirty minutes uphill from the car park takes you to a position in front of the largest end of the canvas covered sculpture.

The size of an eight storey building, the red canvas over metal sculpture looks incredible whether you see if rom a distance or up close. His largest ever sculpture, it does look like it belongs here. It neatly bisects the hill it is carved into and I imagine it would have great acoustics. I would love to set up a band playing on one side and hear it through the other end of the trumpet.

Horizons by Neil Dawson

Neil Dawson's Horizons sits on top of a nearby hill. I saw it has a page from a book, although the Kiwi artist actually designed it as a giant piece of corrugated iron that had blown in from a collapsed water tank on a nearby farm. Either way it looks majestic and is enhanced by a wandering Bison grazing nearby.

On an often wet and cloudy day the Dutch/New Zealand artist Leon Van den Eijkel's coloured blocks set on the valley floor, known officially as Red Cloud Confrontation in Landscape, just worked well. The bright colours are offset by the green landscape. Up close it was not so impressive, definitely one to be seen from a distance.

Red Cloud Confrontation in Landscape by Leon Van den Eijkel

The last piece that really worked me was Sentinels by Andrew Rogers. minimalistic, austere and uniform, the 15 metre metal poles are already starting to be tarnished by the unforgiving New Zealand weather. Sure, they dominate the landscape towering above the native trees, but their outsized presence is impossible to ignore. 

There are a large number of works that Gibbs has commissioned, not all are shown here. Some I appreciated a lot more than others, but the giant sculptures work in the giant area that they sit in. 

Sentinels by Andrew Rogers

Unlimited by the normal limits imposed by a museum or home, the artists have used their imaginations to produce some beautiful pieces of work that look great from a distance, while towering above you as you get close. 

Of course, if I was a multi-millionaire, and as a massive fan of Deadwood, and Alias Smith and Jones (anyone else remember that classic Western from the 1970's?) and happened to have a large property I would also build a mock wooden Western town with bars and a hotel. Gibbs has beaten me to it and has already built one on another party of the farm where he has themed parties there with friends and family. Sadly this part of the farm was not open to the public. 

I will have to wait to build my own.

Up close looking into the canvas clad metal sculpture of The Trumpet

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