Auckland: Artistry in eye of the beholder

By Danielle Wright

Danielle Wright learns to live with the artistic tastes of her children as they race around the Kid's Trail, part of Sculpture in the Gardens at the Auckland Botanic Gardens.

The Bird Lady is a popular permanent feature of the Gardens. Photo / Supplied
The Bird Lady is a popular permanent feature of the Gardens. Photo / Supplied

Splayed. Even the name of Regan Gentry's sculpture makes my hair stand on end, not to mention the 101 shovels he has arranged to look like a flower head - it looks more like a spiky porcupine to me, as flashbacks of old horror movies come to mind.

My five-year-old son on the other hand, who I am chasing along the trail as he races from sculpture to sculpture, chooses this as his favourite. He and his 3-year-old sister scramble over the rows of hedges to get up close to the artwork.

It opens up a nice discussion about art appreciation and how it's okay to like different things, and that it's okay to stand up for those opinions with conviction, which he has in spades, about the spades.

Luckily, there's plenty of diversity in the pieces by 21 participating artists, making up the third Sculpture in the Gardens exhibition, to please all of us.

Many of the artists have featured in previous years and regular visitors will appreciate their artistic progression - apart from, perhaps, Bing Dawe's endangered birds, who were wishing for St Francis last time, and this year they are still waiting for him.

Using our "Sculpture Hunt" map, we're in search of a new artist to the trail, Lucy Bucknell and her Big Man, a giant hunched-over polar bear with his hands deep inside the pockets of his hoodie in sombre reverie.

The texture of the metal used to make Big Man is exciting for little hands to touch and unlike at many art galleries, children are encouraged to be tactile with the artworks here.

Although Big Man is standing in a somewhat lonely green field today, by Christmas he'll be surrounded by the colourful flowers of the season, which might make him a bit cheerier.

Next, we head in search of Lgop co-op's Zeltsitz (a made-up word but in literal German translation it stands for "tent seat"). It's meant as an urban structure with a hidden seat. The modern, garish look of the work is set against the ancient trees of the Gondwana Arboretum.

We watch a family trying to use the seats as catapults to propel themselves into the air. When it's our turn we're disappointed that this isn't their intended purpose.

Next stop is a seat of another kind, a traditional garden swing by Bryan Verey, which, up close, has intricate carvings showing stories of a tui on a flax flower and a toi toi rippling in the wind. Swinging high, you get a new way to view the roses.

The trail is well signposted and my children loved the unexpected nature of the sculptures - Exotic Blooms by Bev Godwin floating in a lake or a bright plastic Daisy Blanket by Mia Hamilton under a tree - though, admittedly, they were almost as excited at finding the next arrow for the trail as they were about the next sculpture.

While it's a fun race around the gardens, typically, they spend most of their time under the giant weeping willow tree by a group of ducklings, taking turns swinging from its long hanging arms or fishing with twigs on the lake's edge.

I finally tear them away and we head uphill to the end of the trail. We pass the unforgettable Bird Lady by Jamie Pickernell. We're not the only ones wanting to sit a while and share the park bench with her - she's a very popular addition to the Auckland Botanic Gardens' permanent sculpture collection and we all agree she's lovely.

With spring in the air and living sculptures like the beautiful waratah or the architectural forms of the silver artichoke leaves in the herb garden, as well as 10,000 plants from around the world, there's so much inspiration to be found here on and off the trail.

Every piece has been well chosen and is interesting to look at, whether you agree with your children about it or not. Without a doubt, you're bound to bond over a few you both love.

All YOU NEED TO KNOW

* Sculpture in the Gardens runs at the Auckland Botanic Gardens until February 12, 2012, and is an outdoor exhibition of 21 large-scale sculptures. It's a 2km trail through the gardens. Drive time is 20 minutes from downtown Auckland.

* Auckland Botanic Gardens is on Hill Rd, Manurewa and is open 8am-8pm daily. The sculpture trail is free. For more information call (09) 267 1457.

- NZ Herald

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