“So I went back to animating solid three-dimensional objects, like motion sculpture - something I did as a kid but now I realised that my particular sense of motion was tied in a lot with vibration. And instead of using an old handle to wind pulley-wheels, I used motors to transmit power to the object…a whole lot of springy metals, and the motorized mechanisms would flip them about.” - Len Lye

Len Lye began making his kinetic sculptures in New York in the late 1950s. He described them initially as ’Tangible Motion Sculptures’ - as motion made tangible. He used this term to distinguish them from Alexander Calder’s “mobiles” since at that time “mobiles” were the best known form of moving sculpture.

After a display of his work at the Museum of Modern Art in 1961, Lye showed his sculptures regularly at the Howard Wise Gallery. It appeared in large exhibitions during the 1960s and received positive coverage in magazines from Time and Newsweek to Artforum and Art in America.

Lye’s work was not only unlike Calder’s mobiles, but also unlike most European kinetic art because he did not use geometrical forms and hi-tech control (in the spirit of the Bauhaus or the Constructivist movement). His work was very body-oriented – Lye’s sculpture dances. He emphasized vibration and sometimes ferocious energy.

Lye came to feel that size was important to movement -- in the way that a large wave has a very different kinetic feel to a small wave, even though the basic shape is the same. But he had great difficulty in funding large works because the material and technology were so expensive. Hence, a number of such projects did not get beyond the stage of plans and small models.

Lye once said: “My work I think is going to be pretty good for the 21st century. Why the 21st? It’s simply that there won’t be the means until then, I don’t think there’ll be the means to have what I want, which is enlarged versions of my work.” He entrusted the Foundation with the task of realizing some of his plans for large-scale works once the technology improved or became affordable. This work is on-going.

Today Lye’s work can be found in many public and private collections around the world. Below are those works most frequently exhibited.

The dates refer to the versions of the sculptures shown. In some cases, earlier versions of these sculptures were exhibited by Lye in the 1950s or 1960s.

Editions of some sculptures are for sale and enquiries can be made to Evan Webb, Director, at e.webb@ext.canterbury

Lye’s Sculptures: