Gibbs Farm is a world-class sculpture park founded by business magnate and art philanthropist Alan Gibbs who, among many things, is known for pioneering high-speed amphibious vehicle technologies. An hour north of Auckland, set amongst rural farmland, the splendour of the natural location is awe-inspiring, and the scale is impossible to describe. Undulating grassy hills extend as far as the eye can see, at its peak overlooking the shallow Kaipara harbour (the largest in the Southern Hemisphere). This vista occupies the entire western horizon.
While the land encompassed by Gibbs Farm is not suitable for farming, the traditional foundation of the New Zealand economy, the yield of this soil is a series of massive sculptures by some of the world’s most respected artists. Perched upon hilltops, emerging from gulleys and erupting from lakes, the spectacular works appear to have sprung from the earth itself. ‘We push the limits,’ founder Alan Gibbs said in an interview with curator Rob Garrett, ‘No sane person would do what we’re doing.’ And I haven’t even mentioned the ‘Farm’ animals yet, including zebras, giraffes, water buffalo and emus that freely roam the property.
First purchasing the Gibbs Farm land in 1991, Alan has certainly amassed sculptures from the cream of the crop over half a century of collecting. Working alongside architect Noel Lane, Alan and his team have commissioned site-specific works from world-renowned artists including Anish Kapoor, Andy Goldsworthy, Marijke de Goey, Richard Serra and Maya Lin – to name just a few.
Though many have heard almost mythically proportioned tales of Gibbs Farm (one staff member quietly hinted to a full-scale Old West style town hidden within the depths of the Farm), to actually sight the sculpture park is a rare privilege. While there is no fee for visiting the Farm, Gibbs Farm is open monthly by prior appointment only to artists, educational institutions, charities and the public. Best explored on foot, visitors are free to move throughout the property, although it would take at least an entire day to see everything (well, everything that we know of!).
Stephanie Post, the co-director of the Auckland Art Fair who organised my visit to the elusive park, contextualised the gravity Gibbs Farm has for New Zealand. ‘…this extraordinary landscape has inspired some of the great contemporary artists of our time to make some of their most outstanding site-specific abstract sculptural works, in response to the place and time,’ she explains to me, ‘Gibbs Farm reminds me that while New Zealand is a small country, on the edge of the map, as it is currently drawn, there is no reason why expectations cannot be exceeded, the best bettered, and experiences like no other created.’