Len Lye’s unique facility to express kinetic magic is explored in a new exhibition at Christchurch Art Gallery.
The artist’s kinetic magic returns to his home city
Stopped Short by Wonder – a fabulous collection of Len Lye’s major sculptural works, films, drawings and paintings – heads south to Christchurch Art Gallery this month, on loan from New Plymouth’s Govett-Brewster Art Gallery / Len Lye Centre. Though his collected works reside in the purpose-built New Plymouth gallery, it was as a small boy in Christchurch that Lye discovered his love of sound, movement and light. As the story goes, a very young Lye was kicking a kerosene can around the back yard on a sunny day, when he was delighted by the ‘thunderclap’ bang from the empty can, and the flash of light from the sun on the side. It was a moment that continued to inspire him, as he constantly sought to bring movement to art. Lye briefly studied at the Canterbury College of Art in 1919, before leaving New Zealand for Australia in 1921. He went on to Samoa, Mallorca, London and ultimately New York, constantly in search of movement and light in his art – a drive that would see him become one of the world’s leading kinetic artists. “You know what: the story is to let the old brain wander its words,” he once wrote. “Out comes a lot of junk but now and then may come one beaut arrangement well worth nudging it to feel like freedom. When messing with metal out may come a fig of mote for motion. A sometime figure of motion are you ready press the button. In utter beatitude, to swoosh!” Len Lye: Stopped by Wonder Christchurch Art Gallery Until November 26 christchurchartgallery.org.nz
From above left A portrait of Len Lye from 1918; ‘Rotating Harmonic’ (1959); and ‘Grass’ (1961-1965) are both by Len Lye.