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.

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.

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‘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.

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‘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.

 

EXPRMNTL

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.

 

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.