A collaborative survey of the career of James Lee Byars (1932-1997) by Mary Boone, Perry Rubenstein, and Michael Werner Galleries.
This unique project filling six individual galleries will span more than forty years of artistic production, by one of the most influential artists of the second half of the twentieth century. This will be the largest and most comprehensive presentation of Byars’s works in the United States providing a rare opportunity to view a unique selection of late, monumental-scale installations, and early paper and cloth objects.
Born in Detroit Byars spent the formative years of his artistic career in Japan where he studied ceramics and papermaking, inspired by the elegance and economy of traditional Noh theater. It was during this time in the late 1950s to early 1960s that he came to value the ephemeral as an essential artistic quality and adopted the ceremonial as an enduring principle in his life and work. Byars’s oeuvre remains difficult to categorize, even though it encompasses art, performance, theater, and philosophy. He created works extreme in their formal simplicity and material luxuriousness. A reflection of his lifelong pursuit of the transient nature of beauty and perfection, his art is a synthesis of Eastern philosophies and the conceptual, theatrical, and minimalist movements.
Among the highlights of this exhibition will be Byars’s The American Flag (1974), one of the artist’s most important silk cloth objects, used in his short 8-mm movie and performance, Two Presidents, also on view; his large-scale, gold-leaf sculpture, The Spinning Oracle of Delphi (1986), first shown at the 1999 Venice Biennale; and, Concave Figure (1994), one of Byars’s final works, consisting of five concave columns of white marble from the Greek island of Thassos, known for the exceptional purity of its marble. Also of interest will be a selection of Byars’s 1960s black-ink paintings, the result of an extended residence in Japan, including a painting, long considered lost, that Byars had sold to MoMA curator Dorothy Miller on the occasion of his one-person exhibition there in 1958. Such works provide an overview of themes and materials central to Byars’ work, an artistic legacy that remains an inspiration to new generations of artists today.