The dates weren't exactly right, but being born on nearly the same day as kinetic artist Len Lye was enough to land two New Plymouth children a special role today.

Zavier Rangiwananga (6) and Emerson Martin (9) got to help Economics Minister Steven Joyce officially open the new Len Lye Centre because their birthdays were similar to Lye's, who was born on July 6.

Ripping the cover off the doors to the spectacular stainless steel-clad centre, Joyce told a crowd of several hundred at today's launch of the $17.5 million combined Len Lye Centre-Govett-Brewster Art Gallery that the man who brought Lye's art to the city, engineer John Matthews met the definition of someone with a magnificent obsession.

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It was Matthews' work building Lye's kinetic sculpture over the past 46 years that underpinned the realisation of the centre.

Joyce paid tribute to the city, his home town, for becoming a magnificent centre of creativity ever since it decided during his school days to get the railway shunting yards away from the coastline and reclaim its relationship with the sea.

He acknowledged there had been some public opposition to the project over its long gestation, but predicted that within five years 100 percent of the local populace would declare themselves in favour of it. Such was the nature of public arts controversies.

The Official party are welcomed to the opening of the Len Lye centre. Photo / Glenn Jeffrey
The Official party are welcomed to the opening of the Len Lye centre. Photo / Glenn Jeffrey
Minister Steven Joyce and Len lye gallery director Simon Rees hongi during the opening. Photo / Glenn Jeffrey
Minister Steven Joyce and Len lye gallery director Simon Rees hongi during the opening. Photo / Glenn Jeffrey
Minister of Arts Maggie Barry escorts Kaumatua Rangi Kotuku Rukuwai in to the newly opened Len Lye centre. Photo / Glenn Jeffrey
Minister of Arts Maggie Barry escorts Kaumatua Rangi Kotuku Rukuwai in to the newly opened Len Lye centre. Photo / Glenn Jeffrey

Minister of Recreation Arts and Heritage Maggie Barry said the impact the new centre would have on New Plymouth would be compared with that of the Eiffel Tower on Paris and the Opera House on Sydney.

The doors were opened to the public in mid-morning and dozens finally got to see what lies behind the shiny façade.

The centre is showing four versions of Lye's Fountain kinetic works, one called Grass and another named Universe, as well as numerous paintings, designs and films. Display of a well-known sculpture called Trilogy: Flip and Two Twisters was postponed because of technical problems.