Sculpture for the masses

FAVOURITE: Grant Scott’s stainless steel sculpture at the Nelson City Fresh Choice car park.
FAVOURITE: Grant Scott’s stainless steel sculpture at the Nelson City Fresh Choice car park.

Sculpture has been in the news this year with opposition over a proposed multimillion-dollar piece on Haulashore Island, which some say will wreck its natural beauty.

There have also been comments about the cost and aesthetics of the new six-metre sculpture in Miyazu Park.

Intrigued by the passion and debate, our family of four went on a “spot the sculpture” trip around Nelson City to find our favourites. There is plenty of choice.

We rated works with “neutral”, “like” or “love”, giving each sculpture one, two or three points, respectively. Nine-year old son wanted to have negative points associated with sculptures that he considered were “ugly.” We over-ruled this, since we doubt his artistic tastes are sufficiently well-honed. Likewise, we overruled 11-year old daughter's suggestion that we only visit sculptures that could be driven to and viewed from the car.

We visited 31 sculptures on a rainy Sunday. First up was the new work by Spanish artist Juanjo Novella in Miyazu Gardens - a massive curved fan of coral. Miss 11-year-old refused to be enthralled by this piece of metal, having read of its $200,000 cost and thinking that the money would have been better spent on affordable housing.

Our next stop was the Maitai River pathway. Here Grant Palliser has left his mark at the Aratuna Bridge, and with the Reef Knot and High Fliers. We also found a canoe outside the Millers Acre info-site and a handsome hand-crafted macrocarpa seat dedicated to Maurice Gee.

We spent a long time at the Aratuna Bridge, where a collaborative work between Grant Palliser and Brian Flintoff incorporates art and infrastructure. A relief depicts eels, which were plentiful in the Maitai and a popular food for Maori.

Both children could wriggle their way between steel rings which represent a hinaki, or eel trap. Miss 11-year old didn't ask the cost and my husband thought it was a “worthy use of a necessary structure”. I agreed that art and engineering had met happily under Bridge St.

At the Queen's Gardens we strolled around The Cupid Fountain, Water Wheel, Boer War memorial and the Sentinel and then headed to Trafalgar St, where there is a sculpture surfeit.

Mr 9-year old liked the noise of the leaves clattering in the wind of the corrugated iron Cabbage Trees (ti rakau), created by Jeff Thomson. He also liked climbing on Victory, a marble piece by Bruce Mitchell on upper Trafalgar St.

Also by Bruce Mitchell is Southern Cross, which relates to the constellation that guided Maori and Pakeha sailors and navigators. The cross casts an X-shaped shadow in the afternoon sun.

The bust of Eelco Boswijk, owner of the Chez Eelco cafe, reminded my husband and me of times spent there. More happy thoughts were evoked for my husband when he saw the Anchor Stone, at the front of the Museum. He muttered something about “juxtaposition” and an “underlying metaphor” and requested we seek more sea associations.

So we headed out to Grant Palliser's bronze Seafarers memorial on the Nelson waterfront. This depicts a sailor at the helm of ship on a turbulent sea and honours “lost seafaring men who led a life at the whim of the sea”.

Wakefield Quay boasts beautiful views of Nelson's sheltered harbour and is a wee art mecca. Highlights include the Early Settlers sculpture, depicting a young migrant family arriving in Nelson. Adjacent is the fascinating Early Settlers Memorial wall facing the sea. It is fun to check the names and see if you recognise any ancestors that arrived on the first ships from 1841-1850.

Nearby is the Navigator, a carved wooden totara globe on a pillar of hardwood. By Tim Wraight, it tells of stories of migration to Nelson: using first the stars, then the compass and now satellites.

My husband's and Mr 9-year old's favourite is here: an un-named sculpture by Jim Mackay made of Corten steel, which has oxidised to a rich deep orange. This is the same material used for the hulls of the commercial ships coming into the harbour, and the containers on them.

Also here is Christopher Finlayson's mural Aotearoa, Darryl Frost's Spyhole, the Lighthouse weathervane and Michael McMillan's work Evolution. I suggest you download the “Quay Art Walk” to see all that is here:

Our final sculpture cluster was at Tahunanui Beach. Here Miss 11-year old found her favourite. The Nelson Youth Council barbecue area has wonderful sculptures made from recycled materials, including beams from the demolished Awatere rail bridge. Her pick was a Darryl Frost piece: large wood and stone pillars.

I think it is excellent that public sculpture projects are often caught up in controversy - otherwise the art is probably meaningless. Our family members each had different “likes”. In addition to celebrating art, the children did some climbing and running, the adults got to be reflective and we all found sculptures we considered beautiful.

My favourite sculpture is the stainless steel work by Grant Scott at the Collingwood Street Fresh Choice supermarket car park. A friend's response to this was “I don't understand or like that piece at all.” This confirmed my view that controversy and debate about art is good.