James Lee Byars

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James Lee Byars (Detroit, 1932 – Cairo, 1997) was a nomadic artist. Born in America and profoundly influenced by ten years in Japan, he was received in Europe with open arms. At first he concentrated mainly on performance art; later he produced more tangible works as well. His work consists of contradictions – the universal and the personal, the luxurious and the minimal, the relic and the live event, the spectacular and the invisible. The environments he created managed to be austere and rococo, understated and flamboyant, usually involving walls painted red, black or gold. His preferred materials, especially in the early years, were folded Japanese paper and silk. In Byars's art, the simplest objects contained metaphysical implications, which often depended upon the neutral, reverential space of the art world or their titles to reveal their hidden meaning.

Sometimes, questions are literally the subject of his work. He set up the World Question Center, which was featured in a live broadcast on Belgian television in 1969, where students phoned famous intellectuals to discover what questions they were asking themselves.

A well-known performance of Byars is ‘The Death of James Lee Byars’. In this performance, he arranges his own death in a room completely decorated with gold leaf. The room was first made in 1994 in Brussels. Byars, dressed in a gold suit, layed on the ground and became – because of his matching suit- one with the room.

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