This month we publish the first collection of Len Lye’s poetry. Mostly known around the world for his experimental films and kinetic sculpture, it’s arguable that Lye’s largest creative undertakings were literary. We published Lye’s 1941 essay ‘Individual Happiness Now: A Definition of a Common Purpose’ in 2017 and decided it would be suitable to follow up with a collection of Lye’s poetry.
Lye’s poetry was published in various places during his lifetime, including Life and Letters Today and the Tiger’s Eye. Unknown to most of his audience, poems accompanied many of his paintings and were often written on the back of the work.
Thanks to the work of Lye’s biographer, Roger Horrocks, the artist’s poetry has been available to contemporary audiences, notably at the NZEPC. Working with Roger to produce the first printed collection of Lye’s poetry has been a highlight of my time at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre.
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.
Currently running at the MMCA in Seoul is the exhibition Movement Making Movememnt featuring animated films by Lotte Reiniger, Oskar Fischinger, Len Lye, Karel Zeman, and Norman McLaren. My essay “Cinematic Splashes” features in the catalogue which you can buy here.
This week’s big news is Dries van Noten’s announcement of their summer 2021 collection – inspired by Len Lye. This was something that’s been under wraps since New Zealand’s Covid19 lockdown earlier this year and an uplifting way to start seeing out the year. And hopefully anticipating a better 2021.
Check out the international coverage of the summer 2021 collection with the New York Times, Vogue, Forbes, and Esquire. First coverage in Aotearoa via the New Zealand Herald’s Viva.
Lye’s experimental films inform many of the pieces in the collection. Particularly works like Trade Tattoo and Rainbow Dance, both made in the 1930s and many decades ahead of MTV.
What’s interesting is that even before Lye was making these films, he dabbled in textile design (an area I’ve spent much of the last year researching). Not long after arriving in London in 1926 and settling in Hammersmith, Lye connected with the Footprints workshop. Established by Gwen Pike, Elspeth Little and Celandine Kennington at Durham Wharf in 1925, Footprints was known for produced hand block printed fabric, curtains, coats and shawls. You can see some examples of the studio’s work here.
Lye’s work associated with the studio largely involved batik scarves and cushions which he likely sold in the Footprints shop to aid his finances while working on his first film, Tusalava. A few examples are extant in the Len Lye Foundation Collection including several works documented below.
The two larger works above are Watershed and Pond People, both made in the late 1920s. Lye retained these two scarves (or shawls) himself and Watershed he claimed to be his favourite work of all. Other works were either sold or gifted to friends. One was gifted to Gertrude Stein sometime around 1930 and another gifted to Laura Riding. Riding’s shawl featured in the transition magazine in 1929.
Pleased to say the Sky Snakes exhibition will be extended until April 2021 given its huge popularity with our audience and the interruptions of Covid19. We only just installed the work before Aotearoa went into its lockdown. But back up and running for the last few months, it’s been a big hit.
Here’s my favourite photograph of the work. The photographer is Jürgen Eisenhauer.
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.
I’ve been waiting to cover the Len Lye: Motion Composer exhibition at Museum Tinguely in Basel in detail closer to the end of the project; however, above is a quick look through the catalogue published by Kehrer Verlag and Museum Tinguely and here is a review of the catalogue by John Hurrell at EyeContact.
The publication features writing by Scott Anthony, Tyler Cann, Wystan Curnow, Roger Horrocks, Andres Pardey, Janine Randerson, Barry Schwabsky, Ann Stephen, Megan Tamati-Quennell, Roland Wetzel, as well as myself.
You can order from Kehrer Verlag here or from Museum Tinguely here.
New exhibitions open on Saturday at the Govett-Brewster so a quick post concerning the exhibition that has just ended, Waking Up Slowly: Elizabeth Thomson and Len Lye. We commissioned this project from curator Greg O’Brien.
This week I’ll be introducing a programme of Len Lye’s films at Stadtkino Basel accompanying the symposium hosted by Museum Tinguely and the University of Basel. Len Lye on the Home Front presents eight of Lye’s films made during the Second World War and a work from his early days in New York, the March of Time newsreel, Night Club Boom.
Many of these films are rarely screened. Musical Poster #1 (1942) and Kill or Be Killed (1942) tend to be represented in summaries of Lye’s filmmaking; however, Newspaper Train (1942), When the Pie was Opened (1941) and Work Party (1942) in particular deserve more attention.