Press Release
6 April 2006
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Mary Boone, Perry Rubenstein, and Michael Werner Galleries announce their collaborative survey of the career of James Lee Byars (1932'1997). 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. Opening on April 27, 28 and May 17, 2006, the exhibition is curated by independent curator and scholar Klaus Ottmann, who recently organized an important Byars retrospective for the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, Germany, and is the curator of the 2006 International SITE Santa Fe Biennial.

This is an opportune time to look at Byars's career, whose life and work were essentially performance, as artists and curators are increasingly looking back at the important art forms that emerged in the 60s and 70s. Last year's exhibition of Byars's work at the Whitney Museum, organized by Chrissie Isles, curator of the Whitney Biennial, was critically acclaimed and presented a select group of the artist's works in the context of more recent American art.

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.