From New York to New Plymouth – Oskar Fischinger’s masterwork Raumlichtkunst
02 May 2017
One of the most thrilling works in experimental cinema, Oskar Fischinger’s Raumlichtkunst is presented for the first time in New Zealand at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre.
Raumlichtkunst (c.1926/2012) is a three-projector HD video installation, using film preserved from original 1920’s nitrates. Oskar Fischinger’s Raumlichtkunst is a reconstruction of his multiple-screen film events, first shown in Germany in 1926, and reconstructed by the Center for Visual Music in Los Angeles in 2012.
The installation has come to the Govett-Brewster from its most recent exhibition at the Whitney Museum, New York, where it was both critically acclaimed and a popular hit. It was described by the New York Times as "dazzling... an exhilarating phantasmagoria of abstraction and metaphor". The installation was also exhibited at Tate Modern London, Palais de Toyko Paris and other venues worldwide.
Often referred to as the ‘father of visual music’, Fischinger is best known for his work on the Disney classic Fantasia. Only using bold, strong, saturated colour in his animation work, often tightly synchronized to music, Fischinger’s practice has influenced generations of filmmakers and animators, including Len Lye.
Govett-Brewster Art Gallery Director Simon Rees says “Raumlichtkunst is a masterpiece of experimental filmmaking coupled with avant-garde modern music. Its combination of colour shapes, movement and music will be immediately familiar to the audiences who know and love Len Lye’s work.”
Lye and Fischinger were contemporaries, both working with colour abstract film in the 1930s. Rees says the two artists fed off each other’s creative filmmaking practice from afar. Scrapbook notes collected by Lye referencing Fischinger’s work can be viewed in the exhibition On an Island, curated by Len Lye Curator Paul Brobbel.
Presented in the Len Lye Centre’s Large Works gallery, Raumlichtkunst is the first non-Lye work presented in that space since it opened in July 2015.
Cindy Keefer, Director of the Center for Visual Music in Los Angeles and curator/archivist for Oskar Fischinger’s Raumlichtkunst says Fischinger performed several different versions of these multiple projector shows under the concept name of ‘Raumlichtkunst’. These shows were some of the earliest multi-media works to use abstract film.
Working with Fischinger's original 1920s nitrate film, the Center for Visual Music restored the 35mm film via traditional photochemical processes, transferred to HD, digitally restored the colour, and reconstructed this 3 screen recreation of his c. 1926 - 27 performances.
“This reconstruction doesn’t strive to represent any one specific performance, rather the concept and effect of Fischinger's series of shows,” says Keefer.
“No documentation exists of the original music used, other than reports of ‘various percussive’ accompaniment. For this re-creation, the Center for Visual Music chose to use Varese's Ionisation and two versions of Double Music by John Cage and Lou Harrison.
According to the Center for Visual Music, “Long before Fischinger became an American, he was part of the international avant-garde of modernism's most radical phase. His early abstract experiments pushed aside narrative and reduced cinema to pure plane, scale, motion and colour”.
This exhibition continues the collaboration between Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and Center for Visual Music, to explore the relationship between Lye and Fischinger. Several of Fischinger’s films will be screened in the Len Lye Centre Cinema during the exhibition season, including recent acquisitions to the Govett-Brewster Collection.
Keefer says, “We are delighted to present Raumlichtkunst here, and to further explore the relationship of Fischinger and Lye. Govett-Brewster’s commitment to showing film is impressive, including its screenings in original formats. The gallery’s work bringing international art cinema to New Zealand, and working with curators around the globe, is creating a vibrant, important center for cinema”.
For more about Raumlichtkunst, see centerforvisualmusic.org/Raumlichtkunst.html
Image: Oskar Fischinger ‘Raumlichtkunst’ c. 1926/2012. Reconstruction by Center for Visual Music. Installation shot at Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre. (c) Center for Visual Music
NOTES TO EDITORS:
Also showing at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre:
Celebrating 40 Years of Len Lye and New Plymouth – Len Lye: Fountain III
Mon 27 Mar – Sun 30 Jul
In celebration of 40 years since Len Lye first exhibited in New Zealand at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery with his kinetic sculpture Fountain III.
Open Collection #3: Tom
27 Mar – 30 Jul
Eager to celebrate the quirkiness of everyday life through his art, Kreisler asks his audiences to look at the world around them in a different way – encouraging a sense of amusement and gentle contemplation.
In Play: Hany Armanious, Peter Robinson, Jim Speers
Sat 1 Apr – Sun 23 Jul
Three large-scale installations held in the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery Collection question ideas of authorship and public space by playing with colour, scale and material.
On an Island: Len Lye, Robert Graves and Laura Riding
Sat 8 April – Sun 6 Aug
Documenting Lye’s friendships and collaborations during the early years of his career, with a survey of works connected to Lye’s stay on the Spanish Island of Mallorca in 1930.
Revealed #2: Florian Pumhösl and Paul Bonet
Sat 8 Apr – Sun 23 Jul
The second Revealed exhibition showcases drawings by the French book cover designer Paul Bonet (1889-1971) from the collection of contemporary Austrian artist Florian Pumhösl (1971).
Len Lye's kinetic sculpture Grass
10 Apr – 23 Jul
Grass (1961 - 1965) is one of Len Lye's most delicate works.
Len Lye’s kinetic sculpture Roundhead
10 Apr – 6 Aug
Consisting of four steel rings, Roundhead (1960, 1998 reconstruction) is one of Len Lye’s earliest tangibles.
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About Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre
The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery is New Zealand’s contemporary art museum in the coastal city of New Plymouth, Taranaki on the North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. Since opening in 1970, the Gallery has dedicated itself to innovative programming, focused collection development and audience engagement. It has earned a strong reputation nationally and internationally for its global vision and special commitment to contemporary art of the Pacific Rim. The Govett-Brewster is also home to the collection and archive of the seminal modernist filmmaker and kinetic sculptor Len Lye (1901–1980).
The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery was founded with a gift to the city of New Plymouth, from one of its greatest ‘Friends’ Monica Brewster (née Govett). A globetrotter before the age of air travel, Monica Brewster envisaged an art museum for her hometown that would be an international beacon for the art and ideas of the current day – the sort she had become familiar with on her global travels.
The Govett-Brewster continues in the legacy of Monica Brewster by taking on and presenting the most provocative, audacious and confident works of art in the global arts landscape.
The greatly expanded museum re-launched on 25 July 2015 with the addition of the Len Lye Centre. With its curved exterior walls of mirror-like stainless steel, the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre is the country’s first example of destination architecture linked to contemporary art.
This latest addition to the Govett-Brewster – the Len Lye Centre – is New Zealand’s first institution dedicated to a single artist, the pioneering filmmaker and kinetic sculptor, Len Lye.
In 1964 Len Lye said “Great architecture goes fifty-fifty with great art”.
The Len Lye Centre building, adjoining the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, is an example of innovative thinking in both engineering and architecture. The architects are Patterson Associates, one of New Zealand’s most internationally recognised architectural firms.
The new Len Lye Centre features Lye’s work in kinetic sculpture, film, painting, drawing, photography, batik and writing, as well as related work by contemporary and historical artists.
It also houses a state-of-the-art 62-seat cinema – a welcoming environment for audiences to experience Len Lye’s films, local and international cinema, arthouse and experimental films, and regular film festival programming.
The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery building in New Plymouth closed in April 2013 for earthquake strengthening, compliance, upgrades and construction of the Len Lye Centre.
About Len Lye
A visionary New Zealander, an inspirational artist, a pioneer of film; Len Lye is one of the most important and influential artists to emerge from New Zealand.
Len Lye was an experimental filmmaker, poet, painter, kinetic sculptor and creative visionary ahead of his time. Most of his works were so revolutionary that technology literally had to catch up to him – meaning much of Lye’s work was not realised in his own lifetime.
Lye’s iconic 45-metre kinetic sculpture Wind Wand sways gently on New Plymouth's Coastal Walkway. The Wind Wand that glows red at night, is the first large outdoor sculpture to be built posthumously from his plans and drawings.
In 1977 Lye returned to his homeland to oversee the first New Zealand exhibition of his work at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. He called it the “swingiest art gallery of the antipodes”.
Shortly before his death in 1980, Lye and his supporters established the Len Lye Foundation, to which he gifted his entire collection. His collection was gifted on the condition that a suitable and permanent home be created in which his works could be fully realised.
“Raumlichtkunst is a masterpiece of experimental filmmaking coupled with avant-garde modern music. Its combination of colour shapes, movement and music will be immediately familiar to the audiences who know and love Len Lye’s work.” - Simon Rees