Architecture New Zealand magazine recently published my short text about celebrating 40 years of Len Lye at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery around the Sky Snakes exhibition. It’s now available online here.
Len Lye’s ‘Sky Snakes’
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.
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.
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.
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.’
Recent Travels: North America
I’m back from a very quick trip across North America, taking in Toronto, Hamilton and Vancouver in Canada and Buffalo, Chicago, Oakland and San Francisco in the United States. Here’s a quick review of the highlights.
McMaster Museum of Art (MMA) in Ontario was my principle museum of interest on this trip and a museum I had not previously visited. My connection to MMA came via a painting in their collection by Ben Nicholson with an inscription from Nicholson on the verso dedicating the work to Len Lye. The two became friends shortly after Lye arrived in London in the mid 1920s and Lye subsequently exhibited in the Seven and Five Society at Nicholson’s invitation. Including Nicholson’s painting in our recent On and Island exhibition was inspired by the letters written between the friends during Lye’s visit to Majorca in 1930 (the letters are in the Tate Archives, not the Len Lye Foundation’s).
A visit to MMA turns up some thrills to be hand in their collection. There’s Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s bronze Bird Bath in front of the museum commissioned for Roger Fry and completed posthumously. MMA have the maquette which you can see in this video. Inside, several new acquisitions gifted by the artist Takao Tanabe were a highlight as I was ending my trip in British Columbia, a landscape that defines Takao’s practice.
The MMA collection is largely defined by the significant collection of (close to 200 works) donated to the museum by benefactor Herman H. Levy (alongside a CAN$15.2m endowment). The MMA will soon open the exhibition A Cultivating Journey: The Herman H. Levy Legacy (1 September – 9 December 2017) which will include works by Corbet, Matisse, Monet, Pissaro, Turner and van Gogh.
Following the MMA I had just a afternoon to enjoy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY., which is unfortunate for what is my favourite museum in North America. The sheer quality of their collection and the scale of what is on display make it such a joy to visit. It was a chance to again see their Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing # 1268: Scribbles: Staircase (AKAG), conceived 2006 (executed 2010). Looking forward too towards the bequest of Marisol’s estate to the Albright-Knox.
I had more time in Chicago, visiting the Art Institute of Chicago to see their exhibition celebrating the work of Hugh Edwards – curator at the Institute for 30 years (’59-70) – and the Museum of Contemporary Photography for their re:collection exhibition. The latter was a fairly standard collection show but having worked on the recent Emanations exhibition it was great seeing several interesting cameraless works by Kei Ito and Binh Danh (more on Danh in a future post).
The big exhibition in Chicago however was at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the large Takashi Murakami survey The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg. Here’s a local review of a show that was the talk of the town.
I had a quick trip to California to visit Berkeley Art Museum and SFMOMA, the latter showing Soundtracks, an exhibition exploring sound in contemporary art with wonderful works by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot and Camille Norment. The exhibition is sadly without a printed catalogue, however there is a reasonable online publication here. SFMOMA was also an opportunity to see a strong collection of works by an artist I’m thing of a great deal lately, Alexander Calder.
I’ll follow up on a few of these exhibitions in more detail in future posts.
After some Friday night hectoring about exhibition making from someone fired up by Susan Sontag – “in place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art” – I saw this Bookforum piece on Sontag’s diaries. The usual stuff. But it reminded me of something I wanted to read again. It’s close to ten years since filmmaker Errol Morris tackled Sontag’s accusation that Roger Fenton faked one of his most well-known photographs in a fascinating investigation for the New York Times. You’ll need some time to work through it, coming in three substantial episodes: Part One, Part Two, Part Three. Morris runs the gamut of what you can do (and the time you can spend) in thinking over a photograph, or two in this case.
Canada celebrates 150 years since its founding this week, however with some pause for thought for its indigenous cultures. David Balzer at Canadian Art writes on Canada’s settler-colonial kitsch and Adam Gopnik at the The New Yorker contemplates the foundation of the United States by comparison.
The Walker Art Centre is at the centre of another quagmire, this time around the Jimmy Durham retrospective. Hyperalleric has a good summary while the comments at Jezebel are quite ride.
And working as I do with kinetic sculpture this piece was a pleasant find this week – on the museum activators of Alexander Calder’s work. Add to that Jean-Paul Satre’s 1947 essay on Calder’s work for ARTnews.
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