Len Lye’s ‘Sky Snakes’

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This weekend the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery celebrated its 50th birthday with a party and the debut of Len Lye’s Sky Snakes. There’s a fair bit of coverage in the New Zealand media, including this from the NZ Herald and this from Radio NZ.

Sky Snakes is not so familiar to most of Lye’s audience. The original, single, Sky Snake featured in the 1965 Buffalo Festival of the Arts and also at the Howard Wise Gallery in NY (also in 1965). The original work is in the Len Lye Foundation Collection but never exhibited. A single Sky Snake was recently reconstructed by the Len Lye Foundation and featured in the recent Len Lye: Motion Composer exhibition at Museum Tinguely in Basel.

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‘Sky Snake’ in ‘Len Lye: Motion Composer’, Museum Tinguely, Oct 2019 – Jan 2020. Credit: Paul Brobbel

The presentation of the work at the Govett-Brewster is a seven-piece ensemble of Sky Snakes and one of the largest if most gentle of Lye’s kinetic sculptures. Here’s a slow-motion clip of the work performing.

 

 

Keep It Moving

I’m very pleased to be able to provide links to my text (with Simon Rees) published in the Getty Conservation Institute’s new collection of essays concerning the conservation of kinetic art. You can order a hard copy of Keep It Moving? – Conserving Kinetic Art (eds. Rachel Rivenc and Reinhard Bek) direct from the Getty store (shipping in April 2018) or otherwise access various digital versions of the whole publication here.

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The collection covers issues of conserving kinetic art through the proceedings from the meeting organized by the Getty Conservation Institute, the ICOM-CC Modern Materials and Contemporary Art Working Group, and Museo del Novecento Palazzo Reale, Milan, Italy, June 30–July 2, 2016. Artists under discussion included Jonathan Borofsky, Chris Burden, Gianni Colombo, Joost Conijn, Len Lye, Heinz Mack, Aleksandar Srnec, Nicolas Schöffer, Ray Staakman, Jean Tinguely, and Thomas Wilfred.  One of the charms of this collection is numerous videos of works under discussion (indexed here).

Here is the abstract of the piece followed by one of the videos included, Len Lye’s Loop in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Read the text itself here.

The New Zealand–born American artist Len Lye (1901–1980) is recognized as a pioneer for his experimental films and his “Tangible Motion Sculpture.” More than thirty-five years after his death, Lye’s artistic legacy is increasingly dependent upon the Len Lye Foundation to reconstruct and realize his sculptural works, particularly the engineering of larger-scale iterations of extant models. In this paper, curators Paul Brobbel and Simon Rees discuss the making of Lye’s sculpture in the twenty-first century and the exhibition of Lye’s work at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth, New Zealand.

Weekend Reading

Controversy this week in Australia over the awarding of the Olive Cotton Award for Photographic Portraiture to Justine Varga for a cameraless photograph produced by the action of the artist’s grandmother writing and spitting on to the negative. The Sydney Morning Herald lead the charge with a couple of pieces and plenty of quotes from disgruntled photographers – their main criticisms here. They raise the question of whether the work is a photograph, whether it’s a portrait, and finally if it was even authored by the artist. With those issues hanging over it, it’s a wonder why the bile hasn’t been more directed to the awards organisers for including the work rather than the typical sexist dismissal of the artist on social media and the hate mail (!) to judge and NGA curator Shaune Lakin. Check out photographer Jack Picone’s social media discussion on the matter to see responses from the dead heart of Australian photography – at best, it’s surprising how few professional photographers can define a photograph.

Hyperalleric reposted an article on Duchamp’s Optical Experiments, something I’m thinking over a bit this week as we install our next Len Lye exhibition at the Govett-Brewster, considering the famous 1961 exhibition of kinetic art Rörelse i konsten/Bewogen Beweging which included the likes of Lye and Jean Tinguely alongside Duchamp. More in this in the coming weeks.

And to end, Jerry Saltz likes the new MoMA renovations.