23 Nov 2017
Visiting the archives of the Len Lye Foundation at the Govett-Brewster Gallery in October, I considered the relationship between Len Lye and Jean Tinguely. Lye and Tinguely, both kinetic artists with an oeuvre spanning over a lot more than just ‘funny moving sculpture’, are connected in many ways.
Tinguely, being a generation younger than Lye, was something like an artistic reference for Lye, who started to produce his sculpture just a few years after Tinguely’s machine-sculptures became known all over the world. Lye was famous for his films, and for his interests in many other things, and had always dreamed of creating moving sculptures – but he had to wait until he was almost 60 years before his ideas could become true. Tinguely on the other hand was a star, he showed his works from 1954 in Europe and very soon after in the US and even Japan. He was the master of kinetics. The fact that Tinguely was not only a successful artist but a popular figure makes him similar to Lye who in the 1930s made abstract experimental films as commercials for companies (which were not meant to be seen only by the arty elite).
In one exhibition the two artists (or better, the works of the two artists) met for the first time. In 1960 the idea of an exhibition about kinetic art was growing momentum. One proponent was Daniel Spoerri, a Swiss artist living in Paris and friend of Jean Tinguely. Spoerri talked of it with Willem Sandberg, director of the then leading museum of contemporary art in Europe, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Another was Jean Tinguely’s friend, Pontus Hultén, the director of the newly opened Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Both of them wanted to make an exhibition of kinetic art and in the end it became a cooperation of two institutions – the Stedelijk and the Moderna Museet.
The groundbreaking 1961 exhibition was Bewogen Beweging (or Rörelse I Konsten, as the title of the show was in Stockholm) and included 28 works by Tinguely and just one by Lye, his Fountain, exhibited after only a few years of practice as a kinetic sculptor. It was for sure a ‘happy moment’ for Lye, as it was one for many of the artists in this exhibition. But for Lye it was perhaps a bit more special than for others, being an artist with a long and respected career.
Some of these ‘happy moments’ of Lye's artistic life are on display right now in New Plymouth, one of the many wonderful shows created out of the Len Lye Foundation Collection and Archive at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, and reason for many like me to come to Taranaki and undertake research here.
Andrew Pardey, Curator, Museum Tinguely