At Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, a retrospective dedicated to the eccentric artist showcases his all-consuming pursuit of perfection and beauty
The spectre of James Lee Byars – or, rather, his extravagant persona, clad in a gold suit and a top hat – looms over this captivating retrospective. But what would this self-declared mystic, with his aristocratic bearing and reverence for beauty, have thought of his works being exhibited inside the cavernous, former-industrial spaces of Milan’s Pirelli HangarBicocca? Perhaps it would have appealed to Byars’s Detroit roots, a coming full circle of sorts? Or, perhaps more likely, the concrete venue would have been a non-starter for a man who travelled to Cairo to see its resplendent pyramids from his hotel as he lay dying from cancer in 1997.
The exhibition opens with a bang: The Golden Tower (1990), Byars’s largest work at 21 metres tall, comprises stainless steel covered entirely in gold leaf. Against the dark walls of HangarBicocca, the tower appears to reach endlessly heavenwards