Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre. Photo Sam Hartnett

Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre. Photo Sam Hartnett

An Art Tour of New Zealand’s North Island

23 Jul 2018

'A farm overrun with enormous abstract sculpture. Galleries showing some of the Asia Pacific’s most exciting and irreverent new work. The weather isn’t always great to the east, but the art is.'
– Broadsheet Melbourne


...After Auckland I took a 50-seat, rickety airplane to New Plymouth, a town about the size of Ballarat, which is home to the world class Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and the Len Lye Centre, both housed in one remarkable building. The Govett-Brewster has been in New Plymouth since 1970, but the addition of the Len Lye Centre in 2015 kicked it up a notch, making it home to the 18,000-piece collection of one of New Zealand’s most revered, unorthodox and original artists. Now the huge, glimmering stainless steel block – with its dramatic curtain-like façade – in the middle of town has a Mona-like presence, attracting local ire and awe in equal measure. It’s an unapologetically provocative building full of provocative art.

Len Lye started his career as a pioneering filmmaker, experimenting with colour by painting and drawing directly onto film, producing circuses of light as in his 1935 film A Colour Box. But by 1959, frustrated with the lack of limitations of filmmaking, he became what he described as a “composer of motion”, building kinetic sculptures that got increasingly elaborate.

Those pieces are ecstatic, noisy and ingenious. Universe, for example, is a large stainless steel band writhing and twisting against a hanging ball, sending a huge, reverberating clang around the room. Lye died in 1980, but his death hasn’t cramped his art practice; he felt the means to create much of the work he wanted wouldn’t exist until the 21st century, so many of his plans are still being realised. Take Sun, Land and Sea, which currently only exists as a model. Lye envisaged seven huge serpent-like strips of polished steel rearing up and striking at a plinth with bolts of lightning. There are new pieces coming all the time, including upscaled versions of his original works. A prototype for a full-scale Sun, Land and Sea is currently being developed by the engineering department of Canterbury University in Christchurch. The “twenty-five million volt arc of electricity” Lye envisaged might cause some OH&S issues, but that’s for the details people to sort out. Lye was the visionary.

Beyond Lye, there’s a program of films – everything from 60s experimental New Zealand cinema to Blade Runner 2049 – and rotating exhibitions of similarly resourceful and inspired work, including the arcane and cryptic work of artist Sriwhana Spong in her exhibition a hook but no fish. And there’s a cafe attached, Monica’s, named for Monica Brewster, women’s rights advocate and arts patron. Best coffee in town...


Read the full article here

New Zealand’s art scene is vibrant, moving, astute, and gnaws at your consciousness, with a strong connection to history and place. And it’s everywhere, from Auckland’s dozens of little commercial spaces to major galleries in little towns. Broadsheet recently spent a week crisscrossing the country’s north island, in search of its best art stomping grounds.