Urbis takes a sneak preview at the much anticipated Len Lye Centre due to open in New Plymouth on Saturday 25 July. The Patterson Associates building - New Plymouth's new cultural gem - is worth all the hype.
Today in New Plymouth, speaking to those-in-the-know you get a frisson of anticipation and excitement. From the small well-connected, arts-focused core of locals who have been inside the new Len Lye Centre one senses palpable pride and expectancy at showing this landmark space to the wider public.
The official public opening on Saturday July 25 is, without a doubt, the hottest ticket in town. Urbis was accompanied by Govett-Brewster director Simon Rees on a private walk-through a few days prior to opening, and can confidently say that - although its awe inspiring façade will be the museum’s trademark - it’s what’s inside that counts.
Behind the shining mirrored exterior is an immensely tall, ascending corridor that immediately impresses by both its scale and its tranquility. Walking toward the main exhibition spaces, the backside of the undulant façade is on the left, rendered in a matt concrete abstraction. Knowing that Lye’s work is just above the crest of the rise, there’s a sense of walking backstage, behind a curtain, towards an immensely energetic show that’s just a few steps away.
The first gallery space houses four of Lye’s iconic fountains, silently rotating, casting twirling light and shadows upon every surface. A second space follows, with a parabolic-shaped central element framing a video screen and two kinetic sculptures. Thoughtfully designed by Rees to enable each moving installation to be viewed singularly, the matt black backdrop fixates your gaze on what’s in front of you. The mesmerizing movements of Kaleidoscope and Universe set the tone for what’s to come.
The journey leads to the overwhelming presence of Trilogy: A Flip and Two Twisters, hung from the treble-height ceiling on industrial-scale mechanisms. On opening day, the work is expected to be activated every 15 minutes, filling every corner of the gallery with cacophonous sound. Standing in front of the installation, watching massive ribbons of steel whirl at top speed, hearing the deafening crack of the “flip” is an almost terrifying experience.
The Len Lye Centre is very small, in relation to significant museums around the world. What you see is an infinitesimal portion of Lye’s wide-ranging output… but there is power in restraint. The way in which Patterson Associates and Simon Rees have selected, framed and contained these energetic works immeasurably enhances their potency, and is nothing short of masterful.