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Christchurch Homecoming for Len Lye’s Engineered Art

Homecoming for Len Lye’s engineered art

Christchurch Art Gallery is bringing the bang, crash, boom and flash of Len Lye’s world-famous engineered art back to where it all started.

Opening tonight (Friday) at a special free public event titled Move, Len Lye: Stopped Short by Wonder will showcase eleven of Lye’s major kinetic sculptural works—including the five-metre-tall Blade—alongside a number of his films, drawings, doodles and paintings.

The exhibition is presented in partnership with the Len Lye Foundation, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery / Len Lye Centre, and Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision.

Christchurch Art Gallery senior curator Lara Strongman says the show is a homecoming for Lye, whose artistic career took him to New York, Sydney, Samoa, London, Mallorca and Puerto Rico during his lifetime.

“Just a few blocks from the Gallery, on Manchester Street, a young Lye kicked an empty kerosene can around his backyard on a sunny day. It was the resulting flash of light and thunder-like boom from that can that would provide the inspiration for the rest of his life’s work—a career committed to the ‘art of movement’,” says Strongman.

As a young man, Lye sketched the motion of horses and carts in the streets, boats over the water, and clouds sweeping above the hills. In his middle years he pioneered direct film techniques, painting and scratching directly on to celluloid rather than using a camera. And in his fifties he developed a series of ambitious, kinetic steel sculptures, which pushed the boundaries of mechanical engineering and developed a new artistic language of motion.

“It’s been nearly 15 years since any of Lye’s works were shown in his hometown, and there will be many in Christchurch and Canterbury who haven’t yet had the pleasure of experiencing the incredible energy of his multi-sensory art-in-motion.

“We’re very much looking forward to sharing it with everyone over the coming months,” adds Strongman.

Len Lye: Stopped Short by Wonder is on display at Christchurch Art Gallery from 5 August to 26 November 2017. Entry is free.


About Len Lye

Leonard Charles Huia "Len" Lye (1901–1980) was a Christchurch-born artist known primarily for his experimental films and kinetic sculptures. His films are held in archives including Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision, the British Film Institute, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and the Pacific Film Archive at the University of California, Berkeley. Lye's sculptures are found in the collections of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth, Whitney Museum of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Berkeley Art Museum.

In the last years of his life, Lye set up the Len Lye Foundation to oversee his legacy, leaving his work “for the public benefit of the people of New Zealand”. Following his death, the entire contents of his New York studio were packed up and moved to New Plymouth, under the care of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. His films were deposited with the New Zealand Film Archive, now Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.

In 2015 the Len Lye Centre opened in the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth. It is New Zealand’s only museum dedicated to the work of a single artist, and holds Lye’s archives, as well as organising changing exhibitions of his work.

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