01 Nov 2021
International interest in the pioneering work of New Zealand artist Len Lye continues to grow 120 years after his birth, with the late artist’s work being included in a number of significant international exhibitions.
His first experimental film, Tusalava (1929), features in a new exhibition on surrealism that opened last week at The Met in New York, and will to London’s Tate Modern next year. This closely follows Lye’s inclusion in an experimental film exhibition in South Korea, and in the inaugural display at soon-to-open Hong Kong mega-museum, M+.
Surrealism Beyond Borders opened at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) last week and will travel to Tate Modern in London in 2022. It looks at the movement’s spread across the world from its origins in Paris in 1924. Knowledge of the movement has been formed primarily through a Western European focus. This exhibition reconsiders the true “movement” of Surrealism across boundaries of geography and chronology.
Although Lye never fully aligned with the Surrealists, Lye had a close association with the group and exhibited several works in the important 1936 International Surrealists Exhibition, the Surrealism Today exhibition at Zwemmer Gallery in 1940, and the significant retrospective exhibition Dada and Surrealism Reviewed at the Hayward Gallery in 1978. He also associated with other leading British modernists connected with Surrealism, including Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.
One of Lye’s last films, Free Radicals (1958/1979), has been purchased for the permanent collection of Hong Kong museum, M+, to be one of the largest museums of modern and contemporary visual culture in the world when it opened in November. Free Radicals will be included in one of the inaugural exhibitions, titled Individuals, Networks, Expressions.
This follows Lye’s recent inclusion in the Movement Making Movement exhibition at MMCA, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul which highlight the work of five important early 20th century animators. Lye also drew significant international attention last year as the inspiration for the Spring / Summer range by renowned fashion house, Dries Van Noten, unveiled to much acclaim at Paris Fashion Week.
At home in New Zealand, the 120th anniversary of Lye’s birth in Lyttelton has been commemorated by several projects. Curated in collaboration with the Len Lye Foundation, the online exhibition Free Radical: Len Lye at 120 has been organised by Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision, New Zealand’s audiovisual archive who are responsible for preserving and managing Lye’s films and audio materials. This is the first time Lye’s films have been made freely available online, including some recordings you’ll see exclusively on the Ngā Taonga site.
Here at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery / Len Lye Centre, you can also celebrate the anniversary of Lye’s birth with the exhibition Rainbow Dance on show until July 2022. The exhibition presents numerous works from the Foundation’s archive for the first time, alongside some of Lye’s more well-known achievements in film and sculpture. This larger perspective of Lye’s practice explores the range of the Len Lye Foundation Collection and reveals Lye as both an artist of unrelenting variety and one whose work is unified around a singular interest in art that moves.
In partnership with the Foundation, the Govett-Brewster will soon publish an anthology of Lye’s poetry, edited and introduced by Roger Horrocks, and available from the Gallery from early November.
In 1967 television documentary Art of the Sixties Len Lye remarked that his work would be “pretty good for the 21st century.” The growing global interest in and attention to Lye’s life and work, 120 years after his birth, suggest he may have been right.