20 Aug 2022 — 25 Apr 2023
Len Lye: Atomic Power
Len Lye as political thinker: beyond riotous experimental films to a world at war
In the 1940s Lye’s politics placed the artist amongst a group of figures concerned with questions of freedom, peace and the idea of global community. Atomic Power tells that story.
Invited to the United States during the latter stages of World War II by US politician and peace envoy Wendell Willkie in order to develop his own anti-fascist manifesto, ‘A Definition of a Common Purpose’, Len Lye’s politics placed the artist amongst a group of figures concerned with questions of freedom, peace and the idea of global community.
The paradox of victory and peace won with the assistance of the atomic bomb concurred with Lye’s challenge in his manifesto – to be firm in defining what values had been won at such cost.
The exhibition selects rarely considered works during the 1940s presenting Lye as a political thinker, moving beyond his riotous experimental films to a world at war. His ‘quiet’ period in the 1940s is reconsidered in the context of post-war émigré artists in an ‘age of anxiety’ (from the W. H. Auden poem, 1947), his return to making film and new approach to sculpture in the 1950s is viewed through the lens of art, technology and science with a newly reconstructed kinetic sculpture, ‘Atomic Dance’.
Other works featuring in the exhibition include the sculpture ‘Roundhead’ and the films Swinging the Lambeth Walk, Musical Poster #1 and Free Radicals. Selections from the Len Lye Foundation archive include a manuscript of ‘A Definition of Common Purpose’ and previously unseen drawings, photography and the artist’s research materials.
Curated by Paul Brobbel.