Art, body and soul

Sculpture: at its best in the great outdoors

Hamish Coney


Looking at art tends to be a pretty private experience so any opportunity to share the love, as it were, should be embraced.

Public sculpture love-ins have been the big movers trendwise in the art world over the past ten years. By the time you read this you will no doubt have sampled New Zealand Sculpture Onshore (early November in Auckland’s Devonport). Maybe you were one of the estimated half-million visitors to the 12th and most massive Sculpture by the Sea at Bondi in Sydney in October. If not, you can get a slice of the action from January 23 to February 15, 2009, when the fourth version of Sculpture on the Gulf will be available to view in all its glory.

Like naturism, sculpture seems best enjoyed on a warm day, outdoors. Few things could be more delightful than a summer stroll along the Waiheke coast enjoying the sculptural magnificence of artists such as Louise Purvis, Robert Jahnke, Graham Bennett, Jeff Thomson, Charlotte Fisher and Nic Moon. We are promised sculpture on land, sea and even sky.

These events enable you, the art punter, to have one of those rare communal art experiences because outdoor sculpture, just like naturists’ beloved volleyball, is a team sport. It is the art equivalent of the Big Day Out—quite the opposite of the solo, brow-furrowing experience of most art presentations. In the great outdoors you can natter, shout, even guffaw. Again, it’s the antithesis of the reverential whispering required inside the art cathedrals that constitute our public galleries.

These sculpture events also prove that art is wildly popular with the general public of all ages, creeds and ethnicities. Perhaps that’s the most gratifying effect of these types of art blockbusters. What they demonstrate is that fabled creature, the ordinary New Zealander, does not regard art with a suspicion bordering on the hostile. In fact, they love it and will journey miles to see it … even catch a ferry.

Magazine layout

Cul-de-sac by Morgan Jones, 2007 and Door by Aiko Groot, 2005

This maturing of our visual palette is to the benefit of all in the art world and it is having a long-term impact on our urban environments. While not quite Rome, Auckland is developing a pretty good selection of permanent public sculpture and these are well worth inspecting on foot. Try taking a stroll commencing with Greer Twiss’ fountain on the corner of K Road and Symonds Street, then thread through St Kevin’s Arcade to take in the replica of Michelangelo’s Moses at the head of Myers Park. On your way to the sea, stop at Untitled by Paratene Matchitt and Red Dancer by Barry Lett in Aotea Square before a left turn to check out Russell Clark’s fabulous Anchor Stones outside the Bledisloe Building just behind the Civic theatre. Then head up the hill to Office Tower Plaza on Albert Street, to one of Auckland’s hidden treasures, British artist Richard Deacon’s serpentine 1991 masterpiece Nobody Here But Us.

I could go on forever but I must add two other destinations. First, the University of Auckland where Paul Hartigan’s 2003 neon Colony in the Engineering School on Symonds Street has quickly become an urban icon. Another sculpture ramble is in the Domain below the museum. Recently installed sculptures by Chiara Corbelletto and John Edgar amongst others go toe to toe with mighty Moreton Bay figs and huge Pohutakawa for your attention. If you are still up for it, wander around to the Domain gates on the hospital side and you’ll find an art deco wonder in the form of Richard Gross’ handsome 1936 nude bronze Athlete.

So there you have it, at least a few days of your summer allocated to art. Who would have thought it could be so healthy for mind and body?

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