Universe 1963

Steel, wood, electromagnets

2090 x 2700 x 280 mm

Edmiston Trust Collection, Auckland Art Gallery.

One of my art teachers put me onto trying to find my own art theory. After many morning walks an idea hit me that seemed like a complete revelation. It was to compose motion, just as musicians compose sound. [The idea] was to lead me far, far away from wanting to excel in traditional art.

Universe is a work that Lye left designs and specifications to the Len Lye Foundation to develop and realize. Many of Lye's kinetic works were unable to be constructed in his lifetime due to lack of technical support and resource, but extensive information remains on his plans for kinetic works.

Originally titled Loop, two electromagnets in the base of this work switch on and off according to a programmed sequence. The pull and release of the magnets creates an unpredictable pattern of motion. The wobbling stainless steel loop occasionally strikes a suspended cork ball, causing it to create, in Lye’s words, a weird quavering sound of its own making.

In 1992 this work was selected for the show Territorium Artis, an exhibition dedicated to the 100 most significant art works of the 20th century.

Reference: www.govettbrewster.com/LenLye

Len LYE 1901-1980

Born in Christchurch, Len Lye is known primarily for his experimental films and kinetic sculpture. As a student, he became convinced that motion could be part of the language of art, leading him to experiment with kinetic sculpture and film.

Lye travelled through Australia and the Pacific exploring indigenous art forms before arriving in London in 1926. In London he joined the Seven and Five Society and exhibited in the 1936 International Surrealist exhibition. He began to make his first experimental and animated films. A Colour Box, 1935 was the first ‘direct film’, made without a camera, to be screened to a general audience. He moved to New York in 1943 where he continued to experiment with ‘direct films’ until the end of his life.

Lye visited New Zealand in 1968 and 1977. On the later trip he worked with a local team to build sculptures for an exhibition at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth. With the success of this collaboration he decided to leave his art collection to the people of New Zealand and established the Len Lye Foundation.

In 2015 the Len Lye Centre opened, adjacent to the Govett-Brewster. It is New Zealand’s first museum dedicated to a single artist. 


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