Friday, 11 March 2016

Live blogging my visit to the new Len Lye gallery

Sorry folks, no regular Ramble today (find your own reading, damn you), because I'm in New Plymouth visiting a new art gallery shod with stainless steel. This one, designed by Andrew Patterson:

If anyone's genuinely keen, I can 'live blog' the visit. (How's that for high-tech.)

First impression from Devon Street: it's almost anonymous until the sun comes out, and then you have to duck.

I like to just wander when I visit a new building, and just see where the building wants to take me. Let's see where this takes me when it opens one minute from now.

More later (if you want it)...


Well, despite the almost complete lack of interest, I'm going to continue anyway.

Why live blog? Three reasons.

It helps me to collect my thoughts.

Len Lye was what he called a kinetic sculptor: his work is in motion; it has to be experienced live, so it seems appropriate to blog live.


Live too because a building like this can't be fully felt just in photographs and plans and in other people's stories. You have to visit. You have to experience it live.



So who was Len Lye, I hear you ask? He was a New Zealander with an international reputation who was fascinated with movement, and with the variety of movement possible with simple repetitive iteration. In that, Len Lyes was a little like the musician Brian Eno. Eno likes to set up a musical algorithm, a pattern, a process to be followed, then step back and see where it goes. Lye does that with film, and with motors and light and with blades and wands of highly reflective steel. Is it art? Probably not. But it's interesting.

But like many of these things, much of the fun is in the creation. The later observer (or listener) could sometimes be excused for nodding off. How many of his own films for example did the old bastard watch? Probably about as many times as Andy Warhol went to sleep watching his much-celebrated 24 hour film-in-real-time of the sun and moon and shadow on the Empire State Building.

And how many ratepayers really do need a 45m Wind Wand?

At least, with this museum extension (as I understand it) the new Len Lye 'wing' was paid for largely by subscription . . .


The museum's main panels or buttresses, the building's most distinctive feature from the street, do the same job as Lye's algorithms in stainless steel, but with concrete and shadow and light reflected and re-reflected inside from these stainless steel-shod pylons. They are essentially concrete pylons curved in plan to let in light only indirectly between, shod on the outside with the same stainless steel used by Lye and by the once burgeoning Taranaki dairy and oil industries. It's a good synergy, and makes an ingenious reinterpretation.

From inside, a bit like Plato's Cave, we have no direct vision of the outside at all; all the outside light enters between these shaped pylons, and is curved and reflected around before entering indirectly, reflecting differing patterns across the curved surfaces as the sun moves and fades and increases or decreases in intensity. On a rainy day it would be fascinating to watch from inside (enjoying a sun shower would be a godsend!)


Back outside again after a quick wander around, I'm intrigued to watch a small girl jumping and laughing at the play of sun and shadow and sparkle on the pavement as the brightly polished curved stainless pylons drive the sun and clouds around to paint changing patterns on their surface and on the footpath. To her credit her mother lets her be, quietly handing her some shades to slip on as she blinks with increasing sunlight, without breaking her moment in the sun's many re-reflections.


Inside again and through the shop, and upwards along the main entrance procession: the ramp up here into the main spaces uses the street's slope well, you enter the main spaces up the ramp, with just you and these towering hypnotic plylons sharing the space, like some ancient hypostyle hall but more elegantly rendered, with the soft reflected light filtering through between and across the sculptured concrete. As with all ingeniously repeating patterns, the pylons' interlocking shape and their repetition leaves you seeking more: the sun's patterns themselves are hypnotic, but your curiosity and the pull of the space between them draw you deeper inside. A good tension. Very well done.

(As it happens, the Conc floors too inadvertently follow the idea of the algorithm, but this time in a less fortuitous way, the re-entrant angles formed at the sharp base of each pylon causing cracks at each pylon's junction with floor. Oh for a short length of steel in the right place at the pour!)

This entrance space is definitely the gallery's signature space, by far the most impressive space here, and is entirely without Len Lye's own work--except by ingenious emulation. The rest of the spaces are really standard-issue gallery spaces you can find anywhere in the world, though perhaps with less actual art on the walls. (On today's visit only a Toss Woolaston, a Shane Cotton and a Colin McCahon are flying a pretty feeble flag.)




  1. It looks wickedly expensive for New Plymouth, do they have the journal ledger on display. Perhaps Maori paid for it.

  2. I really need to get up to New Plymouth and see this place in the flesh.

  3. Thanks for this post. NP is my home town and I recall it fondly - a great outdoors place but out on a limb with a couple of hours drive to escape the province. Since the old folks died I don't have much reason to visit but always love it when there and would happily return there to live. Its probably done OK on the back of oil and dairy which have been consistent performers until recently - the future may be a bit more challenging.

    The Govett Brewster gallery was a bit 'out there' many years ago and I recall an evening with Billy Apple as a youth. Even the arty farty types thought snot and semen on a tissue was hardly art. The good old days.


  4. Hi Peter,
    Hmmm, well I guess we will have to probably disagree, and I come from a family with a deep interest and connection with architecture and for sure I will probably disagree with at the very least one of them.
    Working in N.P, in a real industry, over the last few years I visited the site just after it opened and for those that ask above, its been subscribed to the extent that its paid for by the people of N.P via their taxes and the corporate push-overs like Shell and Todd that have “civic responsibility” read that one as you will and hey maybe I’m just a cynic when it comes to “crony capitalism”.

    So the building, yep looks very modern and “edgy” sitting there at the top of the town, but as a place once I got inside and studied it, I thought and thought and realised that its so badly designed its really nothing more than a multi-storey carpark looking for a purpose or calling outside of its practicality and that became my abiding impression a fancy clad multi storey car-park masquerading badly as a public space.
    Len Lye, interesting sort of stuff maybe, but I gave up doing navel gazing drugs sometime my mid-20s the rest of the stuff nothing more than posturing by an entitled elite.
    Verdict, did I pay for it ? No. (well not directly) Would I pay to see it? No.
    One thing though, it was an hour of my time I cannot ever get back.




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