artist / participant

press release

This major Len Lye retrospective, organised by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery (New Plymouth, New Zealand), is the largest and most comprehensive exhibition of the artist's work to date.

Drawing from the Len Lye Foundation Collection and Archives and featuring materials never exhibited before the exhibition follows the technical processes and conceptual threads that run through Len Lye's artistic career, from his earliest sketches, paintings and batiks of the 1920s, through to his photographic work, experimental and documentary films, and astounding motorised steel sculptures from the 1960s and 1970s. Also featured is a wide range of the artist's notebooks and working materials.

The New Zealand-born Len Lye (1901-1980) is one of the most innovative artists of the modernist era, and a seminal figure in the history of the moving image. Beginning in the 1930s he developed techniques of making films without a camera, applying hand-painted imagery directly to the film strip. Combining these vibrant abstractions with rhythmic Cuban jazz, works such as A Colour Box (1935) have become touchstones for the medium of film as an artistic expression. Lye's film Free Radicals (1957) is perhaps the culmination of a body of film work that influenced successive generations of experimental filmmakers, including Norman McClaren and Stan Brakhage.

As the ubiquity of the moving image in contemporary culture drives a re-appraisal of its history, the critical recognition of Lye's films has increased. Less well-known is the diverse range of media, styles and places in which the artist worked. Lye left New Zealand in his early twenties, travelled throughout the South Pacific, and lived for extended periods in Australia and Samoa before settling in London and then, at the close of World War II, New York. As a writer, painter, and kinetic sculptor, as well as in his work in photography, documentary and experimental film, Lye traversed the boundaries of media as readily as he crossed continents.

Informed by his longstanding interest in non-western and prehistoric art, Lye attempted to cut through distinctions of modern and ancient, technological and biological forms. Films such as Tusalava (1929) and Trade Tattoo (1937) share patterns and techniques derived from traditional bark-cloth and batik painting. Lye's dynamic kinetic sculptures reference dance and the body as much as mechanical technology. Lye's work consistently makes porous the barriers between different media: his films tend toward paintings or drawings, while his sculptures often evoke the condition of film. In each, Lye was concerned with the encounter between the viewer's physical body and the raw materials of light, movement and sound. Len Lye stages this meeting in a vivid mix of film and flashing metal.

Curated by Alessio Cavallaro, Senior Curator, ACMI, and Tyler Cann, Curator, Len Lye Collection, this exhibition presents a new and invigorating look at one of Australasia's most significant and singular modern artists.

only in german

Len Lye retrospective
Kuratoren: Alessio Cavallaro, Tyler Cann