Magazine article Artforum International

Len Lye: AUSTRALIAN CENTRE FOR THE MOVING IMAGE

Magazine article Artforum International

Len Lye: AUSTRALIAN CENTRE FOR THE MOVING IMAGE

Article excerpt

In 1961 Len Lye wrote, "In tangible sculpture the aesthetic value of objects becomes secondary to that of their motion." This just about sums up the message of this revelatory exhibition, almost entirely gathered from the encyclopedic holdings of the Len Lye Foundation at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery (New Zealand's most important museum of contemporary art), which, along with the New Zealand Film Archive, was given Lye's work upon his death in 1980. Densely researched and beautifully installed by curators Alessio Cavallaro and Tyler Cann, this is the first comprehensive overview of one of the twentieth century's most extraordinary artistic "free radicals." That phrase embodied Lye's own vision of art's potential and was the title of one of his last works. Lye was an intermedia inventor of unclassifiable forms, images, and colors, rather than an artist interested in objects for themselves. He invented a lexicon to describe his particular mode of abstraction--terms such as direct film, scratch film, body English, figure of motion, and old brain--insisting that his tangible sculptures were different from mobiles or other sculptures that merely moved.

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In 1924, Lye lived for a year in a native village in Samoa, from which the New Zealand governor deported him for cohabiting with islanders. Arriving in London as a sailor in 1926, he established himself as a formidable if not entirely complicit figure among the British Surrealists; his widely circulated, handpainted animated films Colour Box, 1935, and Rainbow Dance, 1936, were far wilder and more hyperactive than anything the Surrealists' London branch produced. After a wartime stint with the famous GPO Film Unit, in 1944 Lye moved permanently to New York, where he seems to have known everyone--producing a gloriously inventive, highly worked series of photogram portraits of figures ranging from Georgia O'Keeffe, W. …

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