Len Lye Centre

 

OPEN SIX DAYS

Sun, Mon, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat I 10 am – 6 pm
Thu I 10 am – 9 pm
Closed Tuesdays
Closed Christmas Day

 

Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre  42 Queen St, New Plymouth

 


The Len Lye Centre

The Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth is the first museum in New Zealand devoted to a single artist.

It’s the equivalent of the single-artist museums created overseas to honour artists such as Marc Chagall, Salvador Dali, Jean Dubuffet, Paul Gauguin. Paul Klee, Joan Miró, Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Clyfford Still, Jean Tinguely, Cy Twombly and Andy Warhol, among others.

The Len Lye Centre, which opened on 25 July 2015, is built onto the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery on Queen Street, and visitors are able to pass from one building to the other. The Govett-Brewster continues its activities as New Zealand’s leading gallery of contemporary art.

The Centre has changing exhibitions of Lye’s work, including his sculptures, films, paintings and photographs. It attracts a constant flow of visitors, often more than a thousand per day. It has also received a great deal of media attention.

 

Backstory

How did the New Plymouth connection come about? In legal terms it began on 24 April 1980 when the artist, the Len Lye Foundation and the New Plymouth City Council, entered into a Deed of Gift.  By that Deed, Lye transferred the ownership and copyright of all the works owned by him at that time to the Foundation, for the public benefit of the people of New Zealand. The artist died a few weeks later.

In that Deed the Council accepted the responsibility of providing for the storage, access and display of the works in New Plymouth. Since 1980, the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, which is owned by the Council, has performed this task, in association with the Lye Foundation.

The Foundation has always enjoyed a close working relationship with the Council and the gallery. To formalize the relationship, a Len Lye Committee was established, made up of members appointed equally by the Council and the Foundation.

 

Creating the Centre

The Len Lye Committee recommended to the Council that a new, dedicated facility be built.  Designs were sought and Patterson Architects, an Auckland based firm, was successful in securing the contract. It’s a spectacular design that incorporates a stainless steel curtain that wraps around the building. Inside are two large exhibition galleries, a movie theatre, a research archive, an education suite, lounge areas, and various other facilities. 

Significantly, all of the construction costs (approximately $11.5 million) were raised from outside the local Council, which is most unusual for a large project of this kind. Central government provided $4 million and the rest came from private sponsorship. The Council meets the Centre’s operating costs.

The Govett-Brewster and the Len Lye Centre are both managed by a Director (currently Simon Rees). The gallery staff includes a Len Lye Curator (currently Paul Brobbel) and an Assistant Lye Curator (currently Sarah Wall).

The Len Lye Foundation is independent of the Len Lye Centre but works closely with it through the Lye Committee. The Foundation remains the source of Lye sculpture and looks after the technical work that the sculpture requires. Meanwhile the Lye films used by the Centre are sourced from Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision, the repository of Lye’s film work. The Lye Centre serves as the showcase for this material through its exhibitions, talks, publications, and research facilities.

 

The Future

The Council and the Foundation both share the vision that “New Plymouth will be the world centre for the care, display, research and development of the works and ideas of Len Lye, an extraordinary thinker and visionary artist” (as Peter Tennant, who was then New Plymouth’s mayor, summed it up in 2004).

Like the Lye “Wind Wand” project in 2000, the Centre project has had its share of critics and doubters. But when the Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae dedicated a plaque to commemorate the start of the new building in September 2013, he observed in his speech that “Art that doesn’t stimulate debate isn’t art at all.”