For summer, Michael Werner Gallery, New York, is pleased to present The Figure of Death and The Moon Column, an exhibition of sculptures by James Lee Byars. This exhibition is one of three James Lee Byars shows simultaneously on view this summer, alongside The Diamond Floor at Michael Werner Gallery, London and The Poetic Conceit and Other Works at VW (VeneKlasen/Werner), Berlin.
Throughout his prolific career Byars pursued with tireless curiosity his life-long obsessions with ideal form and a personalized notion of “perfect”. Death and the eternal are related concepts Byars explored in several important performances and sculptures. These recurrent themes are given particularly poignant expression in the works on view at Michael Werner.
“The Figure of Death” (1987) is a monumental sculpture comprising ten marble cubes, stacked vertically to a height of nearly nine feet. Its austere form evokes the human figure, echoing many diverse works from throughout Byars' career, notably his performances "The Play of Death" (1976) and "The Death of James Lee Byars" (1994). Though radically different in execution, these and other "death" works posit death as an idealized state given literal form through the body.
Similarly, "The Moon Column" (1990) echoes Byars' interest in states of beauty manifest in figures of perfection. This crescent-shaped monument is sculpted from Thassos marble, a favored material of the artist because of its near-perfect whiteness and simultaneously dense and ethereal presence. As in "The Figure of Death" Byars balances intensely tactile materiality with evocative and idealized form to locate potential manifestations of perfection.
James Lee Byars was born in Detroit in 1932 and studied art and psychology at Wayne State University. He presented his first museum exhibition in 1958, a legendary event that took place in the stairwell of New York's Museum of Modern Art and lasted only one day. Over the following decade Byars lived and worked in Japan where he presented many performances and exhibitions. In 1964 he was invited to present three performances at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Byars returned to America in 1967, dividing his time between New York and Los Angeles; by the 1970s he began to spend increasing amounts of time in Europe. Since that time Byars has been the subject of numerous gallery and museum exhibitions worldwide, including Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Kunsthalle Düsseldorf; IVAM Centre del Carme, Valencia; Castello di Rivoli/Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, Turin; The Henry Moore Institute, Leeds; and Fundaçao de Serralves, Porto. Byars died in Cairo in 1997. Important posthumous exhibitions include The Epitaph of Con. Art is which Questions have Disappeared?, Kestner Gesellschaft, Hannover (1999); The Arts Club of Chicago (2000); Life Love and Death, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt and Musée d'Art moderne et contemporain de Strasbourg (2004); The Perfect Silence, Whitney Museum of American Art (2005); I'm Full of Byars, Kunstmuseum Bern (2008); The Perfect Axis, Schloss Benrath, Düsseldorf; and Klein Byars Kapoor, Musée d'art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain, Nice and ARoS Kunstmuseum, Århus, Denmark (2012-2013). In 2013, "The Figure of the Interrogative Philosophy" and "The Figure of the Question of Death" were included in the 55th Venice Biennale exhibition The Encyclopedic Palace, curated by Massimiliano Gioni. Most recently MoMA PS1 in New York presented James Lee Byars: 1/2 an Autobiography, the most comprehensive survey of Byars organized in North America since the artist's death in 1997. Organized in cooperation with Museo Jumex in Mexico City, where it debuted in spring 2013, the exhibition featured a selection of sculptures, fabric works, performable paper pieces, ink paintings, live performance and ephemera.
Figure of Death and The Moon Column opens on 2 July at Michael Werner Gallery in New York and remains on view through 3 September. Summer hours are Monday through Friday, 10AM to 6PM. For more information please contact the gallery at firstname.lastname@example.org.