Art is for all the people

21:43, Nov 05 2012
tdn lye stand
The proposed Len Lye centre .

The value of modern art to Taranaki is clear. It lifts our hearts and aspirations. It questions and challenges. It amuses and mystifies, most of all, and takes us into the future and becomes a part of who we are.

Those of us who were plain gobsmacked at the beauty of Te Rewa Rewa Bridge know the value of modern art. After all, a few rolled steel girders and a handrail would have done the job, but art, mixed with smart (Taranaki) engineering, has spanned not only the river but our minds and our hearts.

Those families ambling along the walkway with the kids "discovering" the stone sculptures know the value of modern art.

Those who have bothered to stop the car and visit the Garden of Tutenui at Patea, or been transfixed by Len Lye's Trilogy to once again enjoy the crescendo as fresh as a summer wave breaking on Fitzroy Beach, know the value of modern art.

If we ignore art - we ignore life!

Modern art is the domain of all and sundry, the young, the families, the workers and the elderly, ordinary people. It is valued in memories and the excitement of seeing something new expanding our minds and leading us into our tomorrows.


There are no elitists; there is more mystery and jargon with the All Blacks and all that rugby stuff. I have never met anyone who can explain why a first five-eighth is so called - it sounds more like Toss Woolaston's hat size!

It's just as well then that the Len Lye Centre, the hub of the world-renowned modern artist's visionary cinematography and art, is now destined for elevation through the fabric of New Zealandness and beyond.

What about the cost, I hear you ask.

How many of us did a 30-year budget when we decided to have children and then charged the kids for meals and clothing or charged admission to the house? None. How many of us have put a monetary value on our grown- up kids? None. How many of us begrudged money to bring up the kids? None. We willingly paid those costs from the weekly budgets we set aside and got by, knowing there was something really special to be had at the end.

It is the same with the Govett-Brewster and it will be the same with the Len Lye Centre.

There are those Westies who tell us that the cost of these public galleries should be paid for by the art snobs, by those who can afford it. Paid for by having a cash register at the door.


Art is the right of every man, woman and child to enjoy, regardless of standing or education. What better statement is there of a mature, understanding and hospitable Taranaki than to have free access to the Govett-Brewster and the Len Lye Centre?

I reckon the art snobs are the ones who want to establish user-pays and take our art galleries away from those on fixed incomes and young families who could not otherwise afford to get in the door.

They want to rob them of the opportunity to learn and leave them on the outer fringes of self-expression and discovery.

These Luddites will argue that they will never go to the Len Lye Centre or Govett- Brewster, so why should they pay? Yet they will happily accept the increase to the value of their homes brought about by these gems making New Plymouth a better place to live and work.

The question is not whether we can afford to sustain modern art but whether we can afford not to, albeit at an affordable level as it does have to be paid for. As my Westie friends tell me. Frequently.

Not entirely by the public purse though as it is more likely to be sustainable through a private/public partnership model, a la the Len Lye Centre.

The Len Lye Centre, along with the renowned Govett- Brewster Art Gallery, are set to delight, inspire and point the way to the future; to re- establish New Plymouth as the national centre of modern art like no other.

John Sargeant is a Taranaki artist whose eclectic style ranges from portraits to landscapes, figure work, and across many subjects. He has recently completed a project of working 100 pastel portraits over two years. Website:

Taranaki Daily News