The Long Dream of Waking: New perspectives on Len Lye

The last year has been very productive in terms of publishing and research. Beside overseeing the long overdue publication of Robert Graves and  Len Lye’s 1941 essay Individual Happiness Now, I was thrilled to be have the opportunity to bring together Lye’s photogram work in the Shadowgraphs publication. On the research front, I’m eagerly awaiting the publication of a co-authored essay concerning the conservation of kinetic art through the Getty Conservation Institute and presently working on another co-authored piece concerning Lye’s experimental cinema and advertising.

The big event of the year however is a new collection of writing on Lye arriving in November 2017, published by Canterbury University Press and edited with Wystan Curnow and Roger Horrocks. I’ll follow with more detail once we have a press release in hand but, for now, here’s the cover (a 1979 portrait by Robert Del Tredici) and a list of contributors.

LYE_Cover and spine

 

The Long Dream of Waking features contributions from the following: Scott Anthony (Nanyang Technological University), Geoffrey Batchen (Victoria University Wellington), Paul Brobbel (Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre), Rex Butler (Monash University, Melbourne), Wystan Curnow (Len Lye Foundation and Professor Emeritus of the University of Auckland), Sarah Davy (Len Lye Foundation and Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision), A.D.S. Donaldson (National Art School, Sydney), Alla Gadassik (Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Vancouver), Shayne Gooch (University of Canterbury), Malcolm le Grice (Professor Emeritus of the University of the Arts, London), Roger Horrocks (Len Lye Foundation and Professor Emeritus of the University of Auckland), Aaron Kreisler (University of Canterbury), John Matthews (Len Lye Foundation), Peter Selz (Emeritus Professor of the University of California, Berkeley), Luke Smythe (University of Otago, Dunedin) and Evan Webb (Len Lye Foundation).

Weekend Reading

There is a couple of week’s reading to catch up on as I have been preoccupied with a several new Len Lye exhibitions, notably the new exhibition opening at Christchurch Art Gallery, Stopped Short by Wonder (on until 26 November). Curated by CAG’s Lara Strongman, the exhibition is the largest survey of Lye’s work held in Christchurch for several decades and includes requisite works like Universe and Fountain. However, it’s great to see CAG have selected a range of rarely seen paintings by Lye, particularly God of Light (1978), and a large number drawings previously unexhibited. There’s also Big Blade performing in a gallery setting for the first time. The Press previewed the exhibition here with some video of the sculpture in performance.

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Henri Matisse, 1933

The exhibition in Christchurch is accompanied by Henry Matisse: Jazz, an exhibition of Matisse’s portfolio of prints issued in 1947. It’s a nice connection to Lye, sitting in the gallery adjacent to Lye’s proto-MTV experimental films with their jazz sountracks. Interesting then to read this piece this week from Edward Lucie-Smith on the Matisse exhibition at the Royal Academy and its discord with multiculturalism. You can also read Jonathan Jone’s criticism of that same exhibition too.

Just finished this piece today from the New Yorker on Solomon Shereshevsky, a Russian afflicted with synaesthesia and a resulting ability to remember everything. Well not quite, as the article uncovers. But it lead me to reread this older New Yorker piece on Henry Gustave Molaison, the American who couldn’t remember anything. It also brought me back to this recent and fascinating piece on our sense of colour from from Maria Michela Sassi at Aeon, The Sea was Never Blue, exploring the ancient Greek understanding of colour.

 

 

 

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).

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Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Bird Bath (1914/1994)

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.

 

 

 

 

On and Island: A Roundup

The On and Island: Len Lye, Robert Graves and Laura Riding exhibition wraps up on 6 August at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery / Len Lye Centre. The exhibition takes a look over Len Lye’s working relationship with the poets Robert Graves and Laura Riding. Many know of Lye’s friendship with Graves, less so the relationship with Riding. Both were important in expanding Lye’s practice.

One of the high points of the exhibition is the publication of Individual Happiness Now, an essay written by Lye and Graves establishing a set of values to counter the rise of fascism during the Second World War. Unpublished, it seemed more pertinent now than a typical exhibition catalogue. Lye’s biographer and editor of the essay, Roger Horrocks, appeared on Radio New Zealand, speaking to Kim Hill about Lye’s work with Graves on the essay while the text was briefly covered in the Nota Bene page of the Times Literary Supplement (No. 5955, 19 May 2017).

The exhibition itself was reviewed by Lana Lopesi at Pantograph Punch in the nicely titled “Let Beryl and I sort it out”: On Len Lye and Friendships.

A small symposium organised by the Govett-Brewster, held on 9 June at the University of Auckland, took the exhibition as a starting point for a discussion of the Graves and Riding circle, looking at their collaborations with Lye and relationships with other figures such as John Aldridge and Gertrude Stein.

Following a welcome from Govett-Brewster Director Simon Rees, I opened with a brief overview of the relationship between Lye, Graves and Riding before Andrew Paul Wood (writer and critic) opened the conversation in earnest with Fantasy I(s)-Lands and Disputed Territories. Linda Tyler (University of Auckland) returned us to Lye with her paper An Artist in Every Child, A Child in Every Artist: Len Lye and the modernist avant-garde’s investment in children’s art followed by Raymond Spiteri (Victoria University of Wellington) addressing the frequent question of Lye as a surrealist in Dreams are not enough: surrealism in the Graves-Riding circle. The final two papers of the day were particularly interesting for those of us from the Lye side of the conversation with Lisa Samuels (University of Auckland) exploring Laura Riding’s work with John Aldridge around her illustrated poem The Life of the Dead and then Ann Vickery (Deakin University) with her closing paper ‘[B]eing brilliant trouble in arrangement’: Len Lye, Laura Riding, and Gertrude Stein as Acquaintances in Composition.

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Touché – modified symposium advertising.

John Hurrell at Eyecontact writes positively of both the publication of Individual Happiness Now and the symposium (having not seen the exhibition).

I’ll add another round up as more views come in.

 

Oskar Fischinger @ 117

index

Quite a flurry of interest today around Google’s interactive Doodle celebrating the 117th birthday of filmmaker and painter Oskar Fischinger. The Telegraph celebrated too, with a round up of films available online. Happily for us here in New Plymouth, New Zealand, the celebrations coincide with Fischinger’s wonderful Raumlichtkunst (c. 1926/2012) on display at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery / Len Lye Centre. If you enjoyed the Google game, have a look at a different (but better) game, Motion Phone, by Scott Snibbe, attributed by Snibbe to his love of both Lye and Fischinger’s filmmaking.

Check out this detailed list of materials and links on Fischinger and his work, or see the Centre for Visual Music to learn more about the films (including their great Vimeo channel for viewing  the films).

 

Exhibition Review: On an Island

The first review of the On an Island exhibition has arrived, a nice (and reasonably lengthy piece) from Lana Lopesi at The Pantograph Punch.

 

 

Photos: Courtesy of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery (credit: Paul Brobbel)