James Lee Byars: The Perfect Silence
From the late 1950s until his death in Cairo in 1997, Byars made a body of work in sculpture, installation, drawing, performance and film. His work articulates a dualist aesthetic that embodies both the Zen and the baroque. The pieces are characterized by an extreme formal simplicity that belies a luxurious sensuality.
Byars' concern with immateriality and lightness is reflected in his use of materials: slivers of gold leaf, delicate red glass, and the dense purity of white marble and black ink. For Byars, gold was a symbol of both light and sacrifice, leading ultimately to death, an omnipresent theme in the artist's work.
Byar's work reveals preoccupation with the themes of death and transformation and the transience, if not the impossibility, of a perfect moment.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
James Lee Byars was born in Detroit in 1932. He studied art and philosophy at Wayne State University in Detroit in the mid- to late fifties. Beginning in 1957, he spent some ten years in Japan, living mostly in Kyoto, teaching English and traveling extensively to study traditional Japanese culture, pottery, and papermaking, as well as Noh theater and Buddhist philosophy. His first solo museum exhibition was at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1958. In 1961, he had his first solo gallery exhibition at the Marion Willard Gallery in New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art presented The Gold Curb in 1970. Byars participated in documenta 5 in 1972, gaining international recognition, and appeared as well in documenta 6 (1977) and documenta 7 (1982). In 1980 and 1986 he participated in the Venice Biennale. He died in Cairo in 1997.