Monday, August 17, 2015

The way things Lye in New Plymouth

First, the good stuff. The entrance hall and sweeping lead-up to the galleries in the new Len Lye Centre are impressive. The sloping floor was a surprise but the height, the modulated walls reflecting the exterior forms and the tall narrow windows that reveal themselves as you ascend give the sense that you have entered a large and important building. But you quickly realise this splendid entrance over-promises given the limited additional spaces and how much of the building's space is taken up with transiting from one area to another. An ongoing problem with the Govett-Brewster was always the way every space made you feel you were always on the way to somewhere else. Strange then to find the Len Lye addition repeating this pattern. You also have to wonder how the long sloped ramp will impact on installation practices. It's like the Guggenheim on speed, and the complexity of that famous ramp as a working environment is very well known.

Then, for all the millions that have been spent, there is really only one classic four-walled gallery in the new building, and while it's somewhat larger, it's a similar square box to the one that used to adjoin the G-B. The other new gallery space used for the suite of Lye's Fountain works merges with the ramp and is only three sided. And while on the Fountain works you do have to wonder why the new large Fountain was even allowed to go on display. It clearly does not work. The rods do move, thanks to an electric motor but, unlike the smaller Fountains on display for comparison, there is no quivering response through the rods the feature that makes the original so lively and iconic. The over-sized scale is also a problem ironically making the new Fountain look rather stunted. It’s a major issue for the long-term members of the Len Lye Foundation as clearly no one associated with these projects feels they are in a position to stand up and make the call for art and aesthetics over engineering and pragmatism. 

And then there is the entrance to the old Govett-Brewster. Given the repeated assurances by the previous director and architect during the planning and build that the G-B would share its entrance with the LLC - 'Left to the Len Lye Centre, right to the Govett-Brewster' - the virtually hidden entrance to the G-B is inexcusable.  There's no reason it couldn't have been bigger apart from it taking attention away from the 'Temple' like entrance to the Lye sector. The G-B has also lost space in its ground floor galleries and functional requirements have further fragmented its overall flow. The staircase to the first level may have been amended into an art work by Billy Apple but it now looks comically truncated and painting the old spaces black has only served to make the old G-B spaces feel pinched and gloomy. 

Then, given the architectural effort put into building the Len Lye Centre, it makes no sense at all that the massive Trilogy can still only be shown in the G-B. Indeed Trilogy was slated to be in place for the opening but OTN understands Len Lye’s ghost, embarrassed by the thought of also dominating the G-B at the opening, made Trilogy go haywire so it had to be replaced with three very impressive works by et al. (Thanks Len). 

OK, it's early days, of course; the G-B will no doubt revert to white again, director Simon Rees will have more realistic installation schedules and the current Lye exhibits will be refreshed, but at the moment in New Plymouth’s visual arts culture, the Govett-Brewster is definitely no longer at the centre.
Image: standing in for Len Lye. et al. on borrowed time at the Govett-Brewster