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The business of energy and a feeling of zizz

8 September 2003

‘Len Lye’
A travelling exhibition to celebrate the centenary of the artist’s birth
Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu
5 September – 16 November, 2003

Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu is celebrating the centenary of one of New Zealand’s most innovative artists in a new exhibition, which opened on Friday.

Born in Christchurch, Len Lye is regarded as a major influence on the modernist developments that had a radical impact on the direction of art and film in London and New York. The travelling exhibition, initiated by the Art Gallery of New South Wales in partnership with New Plymouth’s Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and supported by the Len Lye Foundation, contains a range of the artist’s works including films, photo-grams and three kinetic sculptures.

Gallery Curator of Contemporary Art Felicity Milburn says Len Lye’s international reputation as a kinetic sculptor continues to grow.

“Len Lye is an important figure in the kinetic art movement of the 1950s and 60s,” says Felicity Milburn.

“His film work has also had a significant influence on New Zealand popular culture.”

Eighteen short films, including Tusalava (1929), Rainbow Dance (1936) and Free Radicals (1979), are included in the exhibition, as well as rare photo-grams dating from 1947 and three kinetic sculptures, Universe (1963-1976), Roundhead (1959) and Grass (1961).

As a filmmaker, Lye pioneered cartoon animation and the technique of painting or scratching patterns directly on to film.

“The shapes and patterns that the artist used in many of his direct-animation films and paintings are drawn from his extensive studies of Pacific imagery, rhythms and culture,” says Felicity Milburn.

“Many of his experimental photo-grams feature a ‘who’s who’ of the friends and acquaintances Lye made in New York and London, including W.H. Auden, Georgia O’Keefe and Le Corbusier.”

“And perhaps most dramatic are the artist’s kinetic works, large scale sculptures encapsulating Len Lye’s fascination with movement, which have inspired audiences worldwide.”

Len Lye is a joint exhibition between the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery supported by the Len Lye Foundation and toured in New Zealand by the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery with support from Creative New Zealand Toi Aotearoa. The Len Lye Foundation is supported by the Technix Group. The exhibition opened on Friday, 5 September in Touring Gallery C and the Borg Henry Gallery of the Christchurch Art Gallery, and will run until 16 November 2003.

About the Artist
Born in Christchurch in 1901, Lye grew up in Wellington, returning to Christchurch in 1919 to study briefly under Archibald Nicoll at the Canterbury College of Art. The artist moved to Australia when he was 21 years old, before travelling extensively in the Pacific Islands. Having previously experimented with moving sculptures, in Australia Lye turned to film-making and experimenting with what he called ‘direct film-making’, painting and scratching directly onto film.

Lye moved to London in 1926 and continued to experiment with film, as well as exploring the idea of ‘photo-grams’, images made by putting something opaque or transparent onto light-sensitive paper, exposing it to light and then processing it. While living in England, Lye became acquainted with avant-garde artists and writers and became a member of the 7 and 5 Society, exhibiting regularly with them until 1934. He came into contact with a number of art movements such as surrealism, abstract expressionism and European kineticism.

It was when he moved to New York in 1944 that Lye returned to the idea of kinetic sculptures, inspired by their dramatic possibilities.

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