29 Jul 2016

Len Lye's big draw raises motion commotion

8:48 pm on 29 July 2016

More of Len Lye's signature kinetic sculptures could soon be on display at the New Plymouth gallery dedicated to his work, after visitor numbers beat expectations in its first year.

Len Lye Centre in Taranaki, attracted about 150,000 people in its first year, about a third more than was predicted.

However grumbles persist that not enough of the New Zealand artist's signature kinetic sculptures are permanently on display.

Len Lye Foundation chair John Matthews said the visitor numbers were fantastic, but he sympathised with those who wanted to see more Lye sculptures.

"We're sensitive to that, that's the Len Lye Foundation, we agree with the people who visit and say, 'can we have some more kinetics'," he said.

John Matthews says hairline cracks in the polished concrete floor of the Len Lye Centre detract from the building's aesthetic.

Len Lye Foundation chair John Matthews. Photo: Supplied

But he believed that would change.

"They are available and my understanding is that's going to be addressed."

"There are other things that we have to address and that's to change the exhibitions more promptly, which people have commented on, and that's in terms of Len's kinetics."

Mr Matthews said what is on display at any one time was a curatorial decision.

When the Len Lye Centre opened in July 2015 it featured a dramatic new 8 metre tall version of the sculpture Fountain surrounded by three earlier versions of the piece.

Kinetic works Universe and Grass were also on display in the $12 million complex while Trilogy was mounted in the adjoining Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, but never performed due to mechanical problems.

A year on, Four Fountains is the only kinetic piece on show.

Former New Plymouth councillor Lance Girling-Butcher, who chaired the Len Lye committee, said he was also disappointed more kinetic works were not on display.

"It's obviously causing some angst and I certainly personally expected to see more but, you know, in that regard we do have them on permanent display.

"But there do seem to be a lot that don't seem to have been shown yet."

Mr Girling-Butcher said the centre's director, Simon Rees, had put together a fascinating programme this year regardless.

"When you appoint a director it's a bit like appointing the captain of a ship. He is the man who calls the tune and I presume Simon has good arguments for the number of kinetic sculptors he has on display."

Mr Rees said the centre aimed to give expression to the full breadth of Len Lye's work, which included film, photography and painting, as well as his kinetic sculptures.

Len Lye in his studio in 1958.

Len Lye in his studio in 1958. Photo: Len Lye Foundation Collection / Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

It was not realistic to have all 17 of Lye's existing sculptures on display at once, he said.

"The kinetics are machines and like every machine they need rest, they need repair, they need to be cared for by experts."

He took the complaints as a sign people had experienced Lye's work, loved it and wanted to see more.

"I don't see it as a criticism, it's an expression of the public audience's desires actually. They've come, they've seen Len, want even more and we're going to find ways to give to them that, even if we haven't done so in year one."

Mr Rees said in the coming weeks seven new versions of Len Lye's Wind Wand would be installed on the New Plymouth foreshore and a rebuilt, and functioning, version of Trilogy would take up residence at the Len Lye Centre.

Trilogy would be a treat for lovers of kinetic sculpture, he said.

"It has such a titanic presence and a sublime sound that dominates the whole building. In getting Trilogy you're getting everything Len's got to give you in one work."

Next year the centre plans to unveil a posthumous work from Len Lye being developed at the University of Canterbury.

Snake God and Snake Goddess features a 10m long band of steel that writhes on the ground like a serpent before rising up and shooting a bolt of lightning into a golden orb.

Something worth waiting for perhaps.

Finished product -  the $12m Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth

Finished product - the $12m Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth Photo: Glenn Jeffrey

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