James Lee Byars: Exhibition of the Week
Contemporary Art Society
Paul Hobson
18 January 2013

Michael Werner Gallery in Mayfair has just opened a stunning exhibition of important works by the late American artist James Lee Byars, entitled Early Works & The Angel. The show brings together several sculptures created early in the artist’s career, including painted scrolls and performative objects, illustrating the artist’s experiments with stone, ceramic, wood and paper, influenced by his time in Japan from 1958 onwards. These pieces are shown in dialogue with his seminal work The Angel, created three decades later in 1989 – just eight years before the artist’s death – which consists of 125 hand-blown Venetian glass globes arranged on the floor to form a stylised figure derived from the Japanese kanji character for ‘man’. Each orb was formed from a single exhalation of the glass-blower, making each a fragile representation of the act of breathing, drawing a strong relationship to the body and via this, generating a performative self-awareness in relation to the work physically in the visitor as they tread delicately through the gallery. The thoughtful pairing of these works from different periods of Byars’ career highlights those artistic values which came to define his influential practice: a life-long appreciation of ceremony, formal rigour, transient beauty and a unique sensitivity to materials. A beautiful show not to be missed!