I’m just coming to the end of three days in Basel assisting with some preparation for Museum Tinguely’s upcoming exhibition Len Lye – Motion Composer. Opening in October, this will be the most substantial exhibition of Lye’s work ever seen in Europe. Previous surveys at the Pompidou Centre and Ikon Gallery, Birmingham were large exhibitions but Motion Composer is a very deep dig into the Len Lye Foundation collections at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery.
One of the highlights of being in Basel again is seeing Jean Tinguely’s restored Méta-Harmonie II. Likewise, with Motion Composer, Museum Tinguely will be including a number of recently restored Len Lye works from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Albright-Knox Art Museum.
On 6 April the Govett-Brewster launched a new season of exhibitions including Mikala Dwyer’s Earthcraft (curated by Sarah Wall), Nicolás Paris’ what connects us (curated by Sarah Wall), Suspended Agency: An installation by Peter Wareing (curated by Mark Williams, Circuit), He Rere Ke – Different Pathways (curated by Gabrielle Belz) and several projects under my curation – Shannon Novak’s Sub Rosa and two Len Lye exhibitions, No Trouble and Art That Moves (co-curated with Emma Glucina).
I’ll follow up on each of these in more detail in the coming weeks. For now, here are a couple this week’s radio interviews concerning two projects. First, artist and curator Gabrielle Belz talking about her Open Collection project with us, He Rere Ke – Different Pathways. Second, Peter Wareing in conversation with Lynn Freeman around his new installation Suspended Agency.
This week we celebrate W. H. Auden’s birthday. Here’s Hannah Arendt’s 1975 New Yorker piece on the poet and above is Len Lye’s 1947 photogram portrait of Auden. The portrait includes lines from Auden’s The Fall of Rome (in his own hand). You can find all of Lye’s photogram portraits in this publication, including Georgia O’Keeffe, Joan Miró, Hans Richter, Le Corbusier and Baby Dodds.
Artist Shannon Novak has been interviewed about his thoughts on the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery with Home magazine. Shannon will be exhibiting in the next season of exhibitions (April – July 2019) at the Gallery with Sub Rosa.
A few weeks back I was interviewed for a Taranaki Daily News article about the Gallery’s screening of The Room(dir. Tommy Wiaeau), one of the stranger media moments I’ve experienced.
Reading about the downfall of New York art dealer Mary Boone I was directed to this interesting piece about her fellow dealer Leo Castelli.
Last week I spoke at the opening of our new suite of exhibitions, a rather large suite featuring Haegue Yang’s first exhibition in Aotearoa, Triple Vita Nestings (touring from the IMA in Brisbane), Maureen Lander’s Flat-pack Whakapapa (touring from the Dowse Art Museum), new works from Richard Maloy and Jacqueline Elley and two new Len Lye exhibitions. This all wraps up 2018 and carries us through to 2019.
Here’s this week’s e-flux announcement of highlights from our 2019 programme.
The evening was also time to celebrate the work of Peter Peryer (1941-2018) who passed away in November. We arranged a small exhibition of Peter’s work for the summer season. The Govett-Brewster has a modest number of works in its collection which you can browse here. I’ll write more on Peter’s work in the coming weeks.
The Free Radicals exhibition is the larger exhibition here and features works by Rodney Charters, Bruce Conner, Steve Cossman, Oskar Fischinger, Richard Lomas, Len Lye, Jodie Mack, and the Parasitic Fantasy Band (Eve Gordon/Sam Hamilton). The title of the show is obviously via Len Lye, but the subtitle was taken from Pip Chodorov in his similarly titled documentary Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Film, speaking of ‘cinema on the wrong side of the tracks’. Throughout the exhibition, we’re screening Chodorov’s film alongside the exhibition as well as Brecht Debackere’s EXPRMNTL documentary which explores the EXPRMNTL film festival held in Belgium between the 1940s and 1970s. It was here that Lye’s 1958 film Free Radicals won a prestigious 2nd place. Lye’s 1959 essay ‘Is Film Art?’ lamented the neglect of experimental cinema in the United States and declared he would no longer make experimental films.
I was fortunate this week to have some time travelling in the South Island (including a rare visit to Dunedin to launch Tao Wells’ new publication EASIER). Having a few hours free between connecting flights in Wellington I was able to get my first look at Te Papa’s new Toi Art exhibitions.
My professional interest in the new exhibitions comes with the inclusion of Len Lye, represented by four of his experimental films, one of which Kaleidoscope (1935) lends the title of one of the key permanent exhibitions, Kaleidoscope: Abstract Aotearoa.
Te Papa has a great painting by Lye in their collection (one of the best), however, most know Lye through his kinetic sculpture and experimental cinema so these films give Lye a fairly prominent place in the new Te Papa project. One of the great aspects of Te Papa’s display of Lye’s work here is what they have included with Tusalava (1929).
Lye’s first film, Tusalava generally screens without a soundtrack. The premiere screening at the London Film Society in December 1929 included a live, two-piano accompaniment composed by the Australian Jack Ellitt. The score was torn up by the temperamental Ellitt and, since it was never recorded, the film has remained silent except for an occasional use of Eugene Goossens’ Rhythmic dance for two pianos, op. 30 (said by Lye to be similar to Ellitt’s original piece). What this means is that Tusalava is often treated to new soundtracks by contemporary composers, such as Alcyona Mick and Harry Harrison. Te Papa is exhibiting Tusalava in its silent form along with three optional alternative soundtracks produced by Matatumua Opeloge Ah Sam, Poulima Salima and Matthew Faiumu Salapu (aka Anonymouz).
These three soundtracks were composed in 2013 as part of the exhibition Len Lye: Agiagiā produced by the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and Mangere Art Centre (curated by James Pinker and myself). Roger Horrocks reviewed the exhibition in Art NZ #149 (From the Fringe to the Centre: Len Lye at Mangere Arts Centre) and Ema Tavola commented with disdain here. You can buy a copy of the catalogue here.
Photo courtesy of artsdiary.co.nz
Photo courtesy of artsdiary.co.nz
The new soundtracks featured as part of a public programme where three local (South Auckland) contemporary composers were invited to produce alternative soundtracks to the film, adding a new element to the Pacific character of Tusalava. Kelly Carmichael reviewed this event, noting
‘As public programmes go, New Compositions: Three Composers Respond to Tusalava was one of the most ambitious and successful examples of how cultural organisations can operate in an expanded field of practice.’
The soundtrack project within Len Lye: Agiagiā was driven by James Pinker. He and the three composers should be congratulated that the project lives on beyond a single public programme and now sits inside our national museum at a moment of celebration.
Te Papa has also included a further soundtrack option with Tusalava, an audio description for the visually impaired. This came about from an initiative at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery as part of our Len Lye programme and lead by Sarah Dalle Nogare. Tusalava was selected for a pilot project to see how audio descriptions for the visually impaired would work on pieces of experimental cinema. It seemed the narrative structure of the film would make this the most productive example to work with. Working with our partners at Ngā Taonga: Sound and Vision and Able we produced the descriptive soundtrack and then ran an audience workshop in New Plymouth to get feedback. The exhibitionOn an Islandwas the first opportunity to present Tusalava with this new audio and it seemed to integrate well into the exhibition. Hopefully, at Te Papa, many more visitors will make the most of this particular soundtrack. Meanwhile, we’ll be working on audio descriptions for further and the more challenging of Lye’s abstract films.