John Gow helping a Phil Price "Angel" fly in windless conditions

John Gow helping a Phil Price “Angel” fly in windless conditions

The climax of our Sensational Sculpture weekend in Auckland was the trip to John and Jo Gow’s estate at Connells Bay in south Waiheke. Suitably primed by an inspection of on-going restoration efforts on neighbouring Rotoroa Island (in which John Gow has also been a leading figure) and an excellent gourmet lunch taken in best Hauraki Gulf weather, we berthed at the wharf in Connells Bay around 2pm. The old farmhouse and its surrounding buildings and trees are nestled together close to the beach and near the outflow of a stream which has been important to Māori and Pākehā travellers and traders for centuries.

John and Jo welcomed us to this idyllic spot with refreshments and an account of their association with the area before splitting us into two groups to be given a personally guided tour. Their goal is to bring art and nature together by installing site-specific sculpture in a rural and coastal environment and the Trust they have established includes amongst its activities support to various NZ art institutions. For the benefit of the curious, John explained that much of the funding for this cultural venture came from some high risk-high reward  investments he had made in mounting stage shows in London in the 1980s of which two, Les Misérables and Phantom of the Opera, are still delivering dividends.

There are currently 32 works by New Zealand sculptors installed at artist-selected sites around the valley and headlands of the bay. As we walked around, John and Jo explained the background to the various works and the considerations which had influenced the sculptors in their choice of position. To further add to our appreciation of this remarkable project, John had arranged for three of the artists – Graham Bennett, Fatu Feu’u and Darryn George – to be present to talk to us about their works and answer our questions.

By the time we had to depart for our return ferry ride to Auckland, we all felt we had been privileged to have the opportunity to view this unique assemblage of contemporary New Zealand sculpture and to have the benefit of commentary from both patrons and artists. The contributions the Gows have made both to restoration on Rotoroa Island and to the development of our sculptural heritage are truly remarkable. The Auckland and wider New Zealand community owe them grateful thanks.

Gordon Shroff
President, Friends of Te Papa

Feature image: Gregor Kregar, Vanish (detail)