When sport meets art

Even if you prefer fine art to the football field, the Rugby World Cup is still something to be thankful for. Auckland’s fabulously transformed Art Gallery has re-opened just in time for the tournament - and American billionaire Julian Robertson has flown in his contemporary art collection for its duration.

Robertson, who owns luxury golf resorts Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs, announced the gift of 15 major works to the Auckland Art Gallery in 2009, but the gallery will only take permanent ownership of the collection when Robertson dies.

Visitors will have until October 30 to view the artworks, which include pieces by Matisse, Picasso, Cezanne and Dali, before they are returned to Robertson in New York. It will be the only opportunity for the public to view the collection in the foreseeable future.

But rugby and art need not be mutually exclusive. The Rugby World Cup has also inspired some significant new installations around the country. Two very different works have been created for Eden Park, the focus of the business end of the tournament.

Four Maori wood carvings sit on high stone plinths, standing guard over the public entrances to the new stadium. The imposing statues depict four guardians of the natural world: Tane Mahuta - spirit of the forest, Tumatauenga - god of war, Rongo - god of peace, and Tawhirimatea - god of wind.

Eden Park is now also home to a gravity-defying bronze sculpture of All Black Michael Jones scoring the first try at the first Rugby World Cup in 1987. Created by Auckland artist Natalie Stamilla, the sculpture is based on a photograph of the iconic moment taken by her father, who was a press photographer during the tournament.

Rugby World Cup is also the inspiration behind a series of limited edition prints created by New Zealand artist Dick Frizzell, famous for his pop art style that has immortalised so many kitsch Kiwiana icons. The seven-piece limited edition set, based on rugby, will be on show during the tournament at Sale Street - one of Auckland’s popular inner city bars.

Not to be outdone by Auckland, the capital has its own set of new rugby-themed works too. Oscar award-winning Weta Workshop has used its creative magic to produce a massive bronze sculpture for Jack Ilott Green, near Wellington’s Civic Centre. It depicts a rugby line-out, and symbolises Wellington’s geographical position on Cook Strait, where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean.

Courtenay Place Park, in the heart of Wellington’s entertainment district, will host a photographic exhibition by Andy Palmer and David Boyce. Called 'Pilgrimage', it will go on show in a series of light boxes and is described as a thoughtful tribute to the national sport.

And just in time for Rugby World Cup, Wellington also has a new waka (Maori canoe) in residence on the waterfront. Named Te Hononga, the waka was carved from 2,000-year-old swamp kauri and was inspired by an 1843 sketch of Te Aro Pa (a fortified Maori village), which once occupied the waterfront site.