Gates open on Sculptureum

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For locals and visitors alike, Sculptureum along Omaha Flats Road has long been a source of mystery and speculation. The large black metal gates held back scores of tight-lipped workers every morning. Electric fences and ‘Private Property’ signs left no doubt that for those of us without a golden ticket, entry to Sculptureum was absolutely forbidden. The Sculptureum gates are now open for visitors, and parallels with Roald Dahl’s magical, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory remain.

Owner, Anthony Grant could well be the sweet visionary that he believes the art world is in dire need of. Imagine a plethora of scrumdilddlyumptious visual delights, inspirational quotes about life's conundrums, and rarely seen exotic birds. Sculptureum enthuses visitors with an almost childlike love for creativity and beauty. The project has taken Anthony twelve years, almost 10-million dollars and the unwavering support of his wife Sandra. “I want to enrich people's lives and inspire them to make their own environments more interesting,” Anthony says. Dressed in a long trench coat and stylish trilby, Anthony, a successful lawyer, greets me warmly on a perfect autumnal day and the whirlwind tour of Sculptureum begins.

We start at the ‘Garden of Creative Diversity’; the tantalising taster I view every day, to and from Omaha Beach. Anthony tells me it would take at least two hours to see everything, so we need to hurry, but unlike Dahl’s equally brilliant Wonka, Anthony assures me I am welcome back anytime. The garden is an absolute marvel, open your eyes and mind to the concept that art and beauty are omnipresent. Ancient rocks from Puhipuhi, Northland illustrate Mother Nature’s works. Household buckets have been repurposed to create an enormous dandelion. A behemoth driftwood whale leaps gracefully from a sea of broken glass and ‘Rabbiton’ is home to real Flemish giants.

Everything in the garden has a descriptor written by Anthony. These along with quotes from historical figures offer an insight into his philosophy. I start to ask questions I need answered in order to write this piece. “We haven’t got time for that! Read this,” Anthony replies, handing me his self-penned book; The Sculptureum Story. It dawns on me that Anthony is having too much fun watching my reaction to his magnum opus, to risk spoiling it with mundane questions. “I got another laugh out of you and another wow! When was the last time you laughed or said wow in an art gallery?” he says, grinning widely. Reaction is all-important to Anthony, he is using art to create a theatrical experience. Some would say the fine-art world prefers to pretend its value is intrinsically superior, far beyond the grubby necessities of commercialisation. Anthony has no such hypocrisy. “If you like it, if it brings you joy, if it moves and inspires you then that’s the most important thing, but I also need to make art pay,” Anthony says.

The 25-hectare site includes a café, which is open to the public, a bar, restaurant, vineyard and conference centre. Anthony promises five star quality dining accompanied by a glass of his award winning wine. The Galleries open with colourful glass works and morph through to the animal room. A life size rhino with hessian coffee sack hide stares menacingly, whilst birds made from silver cutlery look ready to strut around. The gallery eventually leads out to another garden full of delights for the young, and young at heart.

“As children we are all creative, but then we stop. Art is fun and it should continue to enrich our lives,” Anthony says. The classical garden offers a taste of European culture. Contemporary works created from bike helmets, cable ties and milk bottles take on bedazzling new lives. Cezanne, Matisse, Chagall and Picasso also grace the gallery walls.

Tickets for the ‘Garden of Creative Diversity’ cost $25 for adults and $12 for children. The separate Galleries and Closed Gardens house a myriad of other works including the most expensive piece, a huge glass ‘chandelier’ by American glass artist Dale Chihuly. Tickets here are $35 for adults and $15 for children. The complete package deal is $49 per adult and $24 per child.

www.sculptureum.nz

Photography: Anna Kidman

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