07 Oct 2019
Museum Tinguely in Basel, Switzerland will present the most comprehensive survey of Aotearoa New Zealand-born artist Len Lye’s work ever staged in Europe. The major exhibition Len Lye – Motion Composer opens 23 October 2019 to 26 January 2020 and brings together more than 150 artworks.
The exhibition is organised by Museum Tinguely with support from the Len Lye Foundation, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision and the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Acclaimed for his pioneering experimental films, Lye’s oeuvre spanned a wide range of media – painting, photography, poetry and kinetic sculpture.
Len Lye (1901-1980) is known as New Zealand’s maverick modernist. Leaving Aotearoa New Zealand as a young artist, Lye travelled to London following formative experiences in Australia and Samoa. In London, Lye made his mark in avant-garde circles, joining the Seven and Five Society, publishing with Robert Graves and Laura Riding and exhibiting in British Surrealist exhibitions through the 1930s.
Simultaneously, Lye established a leading role in cinema, pioneering the direct-method of animation through an acclaimed body of advertising films for the British General Post Office (GPO) Film Unit and other governmental and corporate commissions. Painting directly onto film without the use of a camera Lye produced one of the most vibrant, exciting and enduring bodies of cinema. Courted by Walt Disney, Lye resisted the move to Hollywood but relocated to the United States during World War II, making a further mark as a leading figure of a flourishing kinetic art movement in the 1960s.
Len Lye – Motion Composer will extensively survey Lye’s filmmaking alongside the largest showing of the artist’s drawings and paintings outside Aotearoa New Zealand. Rarely seen works include several of Lye’s sketchbooks produced in Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia and Samoa in the 1920s – richly illustrated insights into the mind of the young artist. A large selection of photographic works includes several exhibited in the 1936 London International Surrealist Exhibition and a rarely exhibited body of photogram portraits produced in New York in 1947.
The exhibition will feature more than a dozen of Lye’s tangible motion sculptures, the largest international exhibition of Lye’s kinetic sculpture ever mounted. Drawn from the Len Lye Foundation Collection at Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, alongside several collections in the United States, many of these restored or reconstructed works have not been seen since the 1960s.
Museum Tinguely will debut the newly reconstructed work Sky Snake (1965), reconstructed by the Len Lye Foundation for the exhibition.
Govett-Brewster Art Gallery’s Len Lye curator Paul Brobbel says Len Lye – Motion Composer acknowledges the historical connection of Len Lye and the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely.
Renowned for his own kinetic sculpture known as Méta-matics, Tinguely (1925-1991) is celebrated for one of the art world’s most infamous episodes. Tinguely’s sculpture Homage to New York (1960) performed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York with a performance involving the sculpture’s self-destruction. A year later on 5 April 1961, Lye presented An Evening of Tangible Motion Sculpture to an audience of 500 in the museum’s auditorium, including Tinguely.
Brobbel points to both performances as high points of the kinetic movement of the 1960s and says it is appropriate to see such a broad range of Lye's art assembled in the home of Tinguely's work.
Len Lye Foundation Director Evan Webb says Tinguely and Lye represent ‘opposite ends’ of the kinetic art spectrum yet there is significant value in bringing together these two major artists.
“The Museum Tinguely and the Len Lye Centre at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery are the only two 'single artist' museums that specialise in kinetic art and it seems fitting, if not essential, that there be a relationship between the two.”
Len Lye – Motion Composer curator and vice-director of Museum Tinguely Andres Pardey: "Our point of departure was the link between Lye and Tinguely in terms of kinetic art. It was fascinating to discover that they shared far more: a broad oeuvre that ranged from performative elements to theatre and film, from ephemeral installations to monumental buildings, and that always tended to go one step further."
Govett-Brewster Art Gallery Directors Aileen Burns and Johan Lundh are thrilled to partner with such an important institution.
“Both museums have special knowledge about the conservation and presentation of kinetic art. These collaborations extend the knowledge and access to both artists and their works.”
The exhibition Len Lye – motion composer at Museum Tinguely will be accompanied by a catalogue and a programme symposium.
More press info
Image: Len Lye with his kinetic sculpture Grass 1961 – 1965. Courtesy of the Len Lye Foundation
NOTES TO EDITORS:
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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. 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 Govett-Brewster Art Gallery re-launched on 25 July 2015 as a greatly expanded museum including the Len Lye Centre. With its curved exterior walls of mirror-like stainless steel, the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre is Aotearoa New Zealand’s first example of destination architecture linked to contemporary art and its first institution dedicated to a single artist.
In 1964 Len Lye said “Great architecture goes fifty-fifty with great art”. The new building 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.
Specialising in contemporary art from the Pacific, the Gallery also features exhibitions of Lye’s work in kinetic sculpture, film, painting, drawing, photography, batik and writing, as well as related work by contemporary and historical artists.
The contemporary art museum houses a state-of-the-art 60-seat cinema – a welcoming environment for audiences to experience Len Lye’s films, local and international cinema, cult, arthouse and experimental films, and regular festival programming.
The Govett-Brewster/Len Lye Centre is owned and operated by the New Plymouth District Council, which governs the museum under the terms of the founding Monica Brewster Trust Deed and manages the relationship between Council, Len Lye Foundation, and Govett-Brewster staff.
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.
About Museum Tinguely
The Museum Tinguely in Basel, Switzerland, was built directly on the Rhine river to plans by Ticinese architect Mario Botta. It houses the largest collection of works by Jean Tinguely (1925 – 1991), one of the most innovative and most important Swiss artists of the 20th century. The permanent exhibition presents an overview of four decades of his creative activity, from the artist’s early beginnings in the 1950s with motorised reliefs, through to the large-scale sculptures and mechanical sculptures of the 1980s.
With his kinetic artworks, Jean Tinguely (1925–1991) was a pioneering figure in the art of the period after 1950. Regular special exhibitions showcase a broad spectrum of artists and themes based on Tinguely’s ideas, presenting those that inspired him such as Marcel Duchamp and Kurt Schwitters, contemporaries such as Arman, Niki de Saint Phalle, Yves Klein and also current art trends. The museum’s varied programme seeks dialogue with other artists, art forms and disciplines, promising an interactive museum experience for all of the senses.