James Lee Byars: The Monument to Language
1st February 1996 - 30th March 1996
Galleries 1, 2 and 3
It is virtually impossible to place the work of James Lee Byars into a contemporary cultural context. Byars is Byars - a wonderfully engaging philosopher/artist, a creator of philosophemes. A man both of our age and of other ages. Byars is steeped in Italian Baroque aestheticism; he is a schloar of Japanese haiku and is adept at making Japanese cermaics and paper, and he is capable of combining the essence associated with Zen Buddhism with the starkenss of 'Protesteant' minimalism. He also watches MTV.
Byars approaches art as though it had not existed prior to him.
James Lee Byars was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1932. He, however, insists that he is 100 years old. At University Byars studied art and philosophy, and for his 1955 college exhibition he showed large spherical stones in his family home after removing all wondows, doors and furniture. The exhibiton was designed to last for one day.
Between 1958-67 Byars divided his time between the United States and Japan. He lived next to the Temple of the Golden Pavillion in Kyoto, and during this time he exhibitied performable paper works at the Shokokuji monastery. One work, A 1000-foot White Chinese Paper (4" x 800 ft), folded like an accordian, was unfolded to an oval shape by a Japanese woman in ceremonail dress. When the work was repated in 1964 Pittsburgh International, a Catholic nun undertook this action. The object is now in the colection of the Carnegie Museum in Pitsburgh.
The irrevocable fate of this art is to concieve perfection - the perfect moment, sensation, space, form. Perfection is here a mental principle the reveals True Supreme Beauty in every visual detail, notably in the quality and colour of materials. For sculpture, Byars chooses material for its elemental richness (gold, marble, glass, bronze or silk).
In 1972 James Lee Byars was included in Documenta 5, at Kassel and in 1975 'James Lee Byars does the Holy Ghost' opened at the Venice Biennale. Byars has pariticpated in subsequent Documenta and Biennales, and he has divided his time between Sante Fe and Vencie. He has held major exhibitions at the Kusthalle, Bern (1978), Musee d'Art Mosderne de la Ville de Paris (1983); The Philsophical Palace at the Kunsthalle, Dusseldorf (1986); The Palace of Good Luck at the Castello di Rivoli, Turin (1989) and The Perfect Moment at IVAM, Valencia (1994).
The Monument to Language is a gilded bronze sphere, three metres in diameter. It was orignally shown at an exhibition organised by the Fondation Cartier pour l'art Contemporain, Paris, curated by Herve Chandes (Conservatuer de la Fondation Cartiers). The work was realised and produced by the Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, Paris, with the assitance of the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds. Gold and language (like monument and actions) are the material and parameters underlying most of James Lee Byars' work.
- Related publications:
James Lee Byars
The Monument to Language - The Diamond Floor