Agiraffe stood on the hill – tall, strong, majestic and completely still – while down below three giraffes meandered around the countryside. And still the giraffe on the hill did not move.

The Giraffe is a life-size sculpture by New Zealand artist Jeff Thomson that looks real, and yet seems so out of place in the New Zealand’s landscape.

To add to the confusion, there are three real giraffes nearby, wandering around grassy fields in their long-necked, long-legged way – you can even feed them.
Then there are the turkeys and the ostriches that roam free, while other birds flock to the various ponds and a couple of zebra and herds of water buffalo, lamas and other exotic creatures grace the hills.

But the animal life, although lovely, is not the half of it. The real raison d’être is the art, a lot of it well photographed and recognisable, such as the Richard Serra’s leaning wall sculpture, Te Turirangi Contour, and the long red horn of Anish Kapoor’s Dismemberment.

This is the Gibbs Farm – an amazing collection of 18 large sculptures scattered amongst unusual animals and rolling hills overlooking the Kaipara harbour, like a gigantic outdoor art gallery.

The 4sq km farm north of Auckland is owned by one of New Zealand’s most successful businessman, Alan Gibbs, and was bought in 1991 to house his growing collection of abstract minimalist art.

Once a month, except over winter, the farm opens for a few hours to allow up to 1500 members of the public a free glimpse of the works created by some of the world’s leading contemporary artists, who have mostly been commissioned to create their largest artworks specifically for the farm landscape.

Other artists include Graham Bennett, Chris Booth, Daniel Buren, Bill Culbert, Neil Dawson, Marijke de Goey, Andy Goldsworthy, Ralph Hotere, Sol LeWitt, Len Lye, Russell Moses, Peter Nicholls, Eric Orr, Tony Oursler, George Rickey, Peter Roche, Kenneth Snelson, Richard Thompson, Leon van den Eijkel and Zhan Wang.

Last week Raglan people got the opportunity to visit the farm on a bus trip organised by the Raglan Old School Arts Centre committee, which organised its first visit to the sculpture farm two years ago.

“To go up there and actually experience it – it’s not just art, it’s the landscape and the animals. There’s something for everyone,” said committee member Maureen Soames, who helped organise the trip.

The highlight of the day was to wander around the sculptures and realise the sheer size and significance of them – such as the 27m-high steel column artwork, 88.5deg Arc, by Bernar Venet.

“It’s incredible that we as Kiwis can go and have a look at it,” Maureen said.
The different vistas of the rolling hills and gullies combined with the ever-changing tidal Kaipara Harbour – the largest harbour in the Southern Hemisphere – meant the landscape providing the backdrop to the art was always changing.

Some of the sculptures were also created from the landscape, such as Maya Lin’s Fold in the Field, which was so unobtrusive that it almost seemed part of the land. Others were just affected by their environment, like the George Rickey’s Two Rectangles, which only moved with the wind.

The excursion was a good workout for the visitors, as they free-ranged around the farm, walking for a couple of hours to discover one sculpture after another.
Then of course there were the animals: “How many opportunities do you get to feed giraffes and get that close to them?,” Maureen said.

To finish off the trip, which was a fundraiser for the Old School Arts Centre, the bus called in at Matua Winery at Waimauku on the way home for some wine tasting.
Maureen said because of the great demand, the committee may keep arranging trips to Gibbs Farm every two years and may arrange trips to other sculpture parks in future also.

Rachel Benn