Weekend Reading

Over the last year it has become clear that nothing sends a shiver down the spine of museum colleagues as consistently as a new peice from British journalist Tiffany Jenkins. Here’s this week’s piece in the Guardian – on crowds in museums. And here an earlier and releated piece from the Financial Times more blunt in reccommending entry fees as a way to keep the decorum in and the hordes out. It’s all far from the ugliest of Jenkins’ work (but still snobbishly calls school tours of galleries ‘desperate’). For that, work your way back from this response by Andrew Paul Wood in Eyecontact and this by Kathy Bowrey.

A while back I posted a link to Len Lye’s 1937 film N. or NW. This week MUBI published a great piece from Cristina Álvarez López on the same work.

The New York Review of Books and Simon Callow on Paul Robeson.

Two reviews of the new book appeared over the Christmas and New Year period from John Hurrell at EyeContact and Sally Blundell in the Listener.

Nasty & Shabby

Idle hands make for the devil’s play. Something like that lead my curiosity get the better of me this Saturday as I put aside my qualms about a near $40 entry fee and went to see the Art of Banksy exhibition at Auckland’s Aotea Centre. There’s a fair bit of hype around this $40m worth of Banksy touring to New Zealand and particular of attention drawn to the curator of the exhibition and former business partner, Steve Lazarides, not being on good terms with the artist.

The Mayor of Auckland praised the exhibition as a ‘huge win’ for the city yet Don Rowe at the Spinoff said pretty much all that can be said of this exhibition. It’s a pitiful experience, all the more remarkable for its size and the number of ‘hits’ included within and no exaggeration to say the inevitable gift shop climax to the exhibition was delivered with more care. I’ve never seen such a shabbily produced exhibition and the entry fee of $37.50 renders the whole effort shameful. It’s a remarkable thing for Auckland to be proud of given the stresses currently affecting its much more capable exhibition makers.

Len Lye’s Jazz

Today is the last day in the office this year (all things going to plan). Last week we opened our summer Len Lye exhibition, Big Bang Theory. This one’s quite special as Lye’s ‘myth’ paintings from the late 1970s are shown together for the first time in nearly 40 years. It’s been quite a while since  Andrew Bogle at Auckland Art Gallery curated Len Lye: A Personal Mythology, introducing this important series of works. More info on this exhibition is here and in 2018 following the exhibition we will be launching a new book concerning these works.

‘Big Bang Theory’ at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre, 2017-2018. Photo: Bryan James

Another project seeing us through the summer holidays is the ninth in our Projection Series Programme. This is our (roughly) quarterly film programme concerned with short format cinema, based around the experimental films of Lye and his peers as well as that of contemporary filmmakers. Each Projection Series is accompanied with a brochure and short essay and we’ve just made all of these available digitally on the Gallery’s website. Grab them at the following links for some holiday reading:

Projection Series #8: The Long Dream of Waking
Projection Series #7: First as fiction, then as myth
Projection Series #6: A Little Faith
Projection Series #5: Once more – but different
Projection Series #4: Man Without a Camera
Projection Series #3: Syncopated Cinema
Projection Series #2: Six Artists Respond to the Poetry of Joanna Margaret Paul
Projection Series #1: Len Lye’s Colour Box

The programmes above featured: Jordan Belson, Luis Buñuel, Katherine Berger, Jordana Bragg, Mary Ellen Bute, Steve Carr, Bruce Conner, Maya Deren, Oscar Enberg, Oskar Fischinger, Rico Gatson, Christoph Girardet, Ane Hjort Guttu, Nate Harrison, Murray Hewitt, Karin Hofko, Ian Hugo, William E. Jones, Daisuke Kosugi, Kutiman, Sonya Lacey, Len Lye, Evelyn Lambart, Norman McLaren, Tracey Moffatt, Ursula Mayer, Matthias Müller, Peter Roehr, Nova Paul, Miranda Parkes, Martin Rumsby, Rachel Shearer, Barry Spinello, Martine Syms, Shannon Te Ao, Popular Productions and Peter Wareing.

Curators included Marc Glöde, Sophie O’Brien, Tendai John Mutumbu, Solomon Nagler, Frank Stark, Sarah Wall, Mark Williams and myself.

Projection Series #9: Len Lye’s Jazz begins screening daily on 30 December 2017. This programme is a quick survey of Lye’s association with jazz through his filmmaking. I invited Dr. Nicolas Pillai to write the essay accompanying this one which you can grab at the previous link. Pillai is the author of the recent book Jazz as Visual Language: Film, Television and the Dissonant Image.

One of the films featured in Projection Series #9 is Lye’s N. or N.W. (1938), produced for the G.P.O. Film Unit and presented here by the British Film Institute. Although not Lye’s typical abstract animation, N. or N.W. includes a very Lye-esque soundtrack featuring pieces by Fats Waller and Benny Goodman.




Launching ‘The Long Dream of Waking’

After several years of toil we launched the new collection of research concerning Len Lye this past Thursday at Scorpio books in Christchurch. It was a fitting conclusion to a year of activity for us in Lye’s hometown. Two exhibitions took place there through the latter half of 2018, Stopped Short by Wonder at Christchurch Art Gallery and Pretty Good for the 21st Century at the School of Fine Arts and Canterbury University.

‘The Long Dream of Waking’ on display at Scorpio Books. Photo: Paul Brobbel.

Partnering with Canterbury University Press on this book recognised more than the city having a biographical connection to Lye but the strong connections between the University’s School of Engineering and the Len Lye Foundation.

You can read the press release for the book here.

In New Zealand you can purchase via most good booksellers. Online ordering via Nationwide Book Distributors or via the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery store.

Otherwise, the book will be available via Amazon in early 2018.

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Contributors and publishers of ‘The Long Dream of Waking’: (L to R) Aaron Kreisler, Sarah Davy, Shayne Gooch, Catherine Montgomery, Katrina McCallum, Paul Brobbel and Simon Rees. Photo:  Duncan Shaw-Brown, courtesy of University of Canterbury.



I’m presently working on several of next year’s exhibitions, the big one being Free Radicals: Cinema on the Wrong Side of the Tracks (opening in April 2018). Looking at Len Lye’s experimental films as a gateway to the wider world of experimental cinema, I grabbed the title from a quote by Pip Chodorov in his Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Film documentary.

As I’m slowly scratching away at details for this exhibition I was delighted to get a copy of the EXPRMNTL film directed by Brecht Debackere. EXPRMNTL is a documentary about the Knokke Experimental Film Festival held on just five occassions: 1949, 1958, 1963, 1967 and 1974 in the Belgian seaside town of Knokke-le-Zoute.

Nine of Len Lye’s films screened in the first festival in 1949; however, my particular interest in this festival is the second edition, held as part of the 1958 World Exhibition in Brussels. It was here that Lye’s Free Radicals (1958) was awarded Second Grand Prize (from a total of 137 participating films) by a panel of judges which included John Grierson, Man Ray and Norman McLaren. Lye’s financial gain from this win wasn’t enough to cover the costs of making Free Radicals and in the months following this win he decalared himself on strike, formally publishing notice of this strike in his 1963 Film Culture essay, ‘Is Film Art?’.

Check out the trailor for EXPRMNTL below and more details here.


Apparitions: the photograph and its image

This week the Adam Art Gallery at Victoria University (Wellington) opened the exhibition Apparitions: the photograph and its image (14 October – 17 December 2017). Curated by Geoffrey Batchen and Victoria University art history honours students, the exhibition considers the reproducibility and circulation of photographic images during the early years of the medium. What you see on display in Apparitions is a diffuse reading of the photograph through the 19th century, largely through engraving and lithographs produced after a photographic source.

The first objects you seen in the exhibition are a series of 19th century copies of the Portland Vase by Josiah Wedgwood and Sons Ltd. It’s a clever conceit. Thomas Wedgwood (1771-1805), one of Josiah’s four sons, was an early pioneer of photography and his father’s efforts to copy the famed object demonstrate the industry and commerce that was similarly involved in the development of photography.

One of the key works in Apparitions is Noël Marie Paymal Lerebours’ publication Excursions daguerriennes: vues et monuments les plus remarquables du globe (1841-1864). Lerebours (1807-1873) was a Parisian optician involved in popularising the daguerreotype technique, reproducing images of monuments and landscapes from around the world made using this new technology. The unique nature of each daguerreotype image made them unsuitable for easy or large scale reproduction so Lerebours’ developed a technique of tracing the image from a daguerreotype onto paper for transfer to an engraving plate. Soliciting images from daguerreotypists, Lerebours was able to promote the exciting new view of the world captured by this new photographic technology in numerous volumes of the Excursions daguerriennes.

Frédéric Goupil-Fesquet, ‘Beirut’ (1840), from ‘Excursions daguerriennes’

One photograph from my own collection was included in Apparitions, a 1840 view of Beirut by Frédéric Goupil-Fesquet (1806-1893) and appears in Excursions daguerriennes. This photograph is notable for several reasons. It is recognised as the first photograph to document Beirut and is one of the few photographs published by Lerebours to acknowledge the photographer as a author of the image.

Being so far removed from the localities of 19th photographic innovation, New Zealand is a difficult place in which to mount such an exhibition. However, loans from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the National Library of New Zealand and Auckland Museum illustrate there is a surprising depth to New Zealand’s photography collecting. Batchen’s previous exhibition, Emanations: the art of the cameraless photograph, similarly brought together a wealth of photographs one wouldn’t expect to find so close at hand from Australasian collections, proving that New Zealand audiences can see some expertly produced exhibitions given the right attention and resourcing.

Weekend Reading

Dayanita Singh is interviewed here discussing her Pocket Museum publication, a miniature version of the Museum Bhavan exhibition published by Steidl.

Some listening for a change. Last month 95bFM broadcast an interview with Erika Balsom as part of their Artbank programme. Balsom is Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at King’s College London and was visiting New Zealand as part of the Govett-Brewster At Gallery’s International Film Curator in residence programme. Balsom covers her visit to New Zealand (and Australia) in this month’s Art Monthly magazine (unavailable online).

There’s a lot of talk around Alexander Calder lately, principally around he Whitney Museum’s exhibition, Calder: Hypermobility. This piece from Hyperallergic covers the performative aspect of Calder’s motor driven works in the Whitney show. The article includes several videos from the Whitney’s channel which lead me on the Calder Foundation’s own videos. Here’s Calder Foundation chairman and grandson of Calder, Alexander S. C. Rower, demonstrating motion in Calder’s work.

The other exciting news in the Calder world is Jed Perl’s new biography, an excerpt  published here by the Smithsonian.


The Imperial War Museum North’s Wyndham Lewis exhibition gets a review in the London Review of Books, reviewer Jon Day observing Lewis’ best work was his war paintings:

‘In fact, the pictures are still shocking: war gave Lewis a subject which was equal to his anger. He pays as much attention to the angle of a rack of shells as he does to the bodies of the men around them. Unlike some of his peers, he wasn’t interested in the dynamism of war – there are no explosions, his war paintings are strangely static. Nor did the war do much to strip him of the schoolboyish contrarianism of Blast. But it did give him a way of applying Vorticism to the real world, providing a context for what Read called ‘the geometry of fear’. Lewis’s work can still feel more modernist than any of his peers.’