Is it art - or have we been caught hook, line and sinker?

An Italian artist is flying goldfish to New Zealand on a private plane for 100 people to look at.

A film of the flight and the landing will then be played in a central city park for mass consumption.

The fish - which can be bought for as little as $7 each in Auckland pet shops - will have their own bowls and seats.

Aside from the pilots and flight crew, the only other passengers will be Italian artist Paola Pivi and her assistants.

The exhibition - titled I Wish I Am Fish - might be seen as codswallop by some. Others are divided over whether it qualifies as art or is a publicity stunt.

The plane touches down at 5pm next Saturday. The exhibition is among 20 projects in a nationwide One Day Sculpture series.

Pivi said her project was a "performance" where at least two fish would be flown from Sydney to Auckland as passengers.

"The plane will land at a hangar at Auckland Airport and it will become part of a short static exhibition."

Only 100 people would be present in the hangar so it complied with Civil Aviation Security laws.

The landing is the end of the performance, which would be documented on film and relayed on a big screen in Auckland's Freyberg Square from 9pm to midnight.

Pivi is funding the majority of the project, but would not disclose the total cost, which is understood to be tens of thousands of dollars.

The Chartwell Trust, which offers financial support to contemporary art projects, has contributed $4000 to pay for Pivi's accommodation, some flights to New Zealand and the public screening.

Art critic Hamish Keith said the exhibition crossed the "narrow line between art and stunt".

"It could cross that in either direction. I don't think it's likely to be great art because it won't last. If it makes people think about something it serves its purpose."

Auckland Mayor John Banks said he'd "rather go and watch the Warriors" but had "no idea" if it was art.

"I quite like goldfish; I hope they're being treated with respect and dignity. I prefer goldfish to some people. Anything that promotes this great city is worthwhile. I presume small things make a big difference."

The exhibition is being managed by the Auckland City Council's Auckland Art Gallery. The series is co-ordinated by Massey University's Litmus Research Initiative.

Gallery director Chris Saines said he was excited about Pivi's "brilliant contribution" to One Day Sculpture.

"I am pleased we can play a role in this national project. We are incredibly fortunate that there are artists of Paola's reputation and imaginative reach working here, and funders like Chartwell who believe in art's ability to shift our views on the world."

Litmus Research Initiative director Dr David Cross said Pivi was "widely lauded as one of the world's leading contemporary sculptors and public sphere artists".

"Pivi brings a sense of whimsy and delight to her work and is known for her clever representations of objects, animals and materials in unusual settings."

Pivi, who splits her time between Milan and Alaska, gained acclaim for her 2003 photo of a donkey floating on a small boat and in 2007 for a leopard walking across 3000 cappuccino cups.

- ADDITIONAL REPORTING: Nicola Shepheard