Jenny Nicholls takes to the trails.

“Is this going to be beautiful?” asks the small girl, skipping in as we are leaving. The hour’s drive from Auckland to the Brick Bay Sculpture trail must seem long when you are small and the day is sunny.

Should art always be beautiful? I would say, in a heartbeat, no.

But I know she will love this place.

Art parks are a surprisingly recent way of showing off sculpture, if you don’t count the walled gardens of old-world aristocracy, bedecked with statues like decorations on a wedding cake. The New York Times credits the Storm King Art Centre in New York, founded in 1960, and Yorkshire Sculpture Park in England, which opened 17 years later, as the first modern “open air galleries”. Both are around 200ha, and display works by the heavy-hitters of 20th-century contemporary sculpture amid woods and well-tended parkland.

In the 1980s, altogether stranger, wilder and more surreal shrines to sculpture began to emerge: places like Arte Sella in Italy, Wanås Konst in Sweden, and the immaculate, reimagined fishing houses on Naoshima Island in Japan. More “trail” than “park”, the idea was to connect art and nature with “site-specific” art built into the landscape.

Brick Bay, on the road to Snells Beach, north of Auckland, is in basic harmony with this idea, although the work isn’t site-specific, as it is basically a dealer gallery for sculptors. The sculpture trail is run by the Didsbury family who, helpfully, manage a trust to support artists to make their works, in a genre that is often formidably pricey and technically challenging. 

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