About the work of James Lee Byars


James Lee Byars 1932-1997

Born in Detroit, USA.

The work of the American artist James Lee Byars can impossibly be categorised into a specific artistic movement or discipline. He employed performances, sculptures, mail art, drawings, installations and many more to construct his ideas. In his art he explored timeless, but difficult to visually concretize concepts like beauty, perfection, death, philosophy and spirituality. To help him manifest these ideas he used round numbers like 100, 100 000, geometric figures, especially circles and spheres and precious materials, like gold and marble. In his search for perfect beauty he is concerned about an idea, not for individual objects. Byars thus presents his art in an interrogative manner. He raises the question, if it is possible for these things to really exist, or would we be better of without them? Questions can also literally form the subject of his work. For instance in the performance The World Question Center he "collected" a number of questions posed by a number of prominent intellectuals.

James Lee Byars' "actions" perpetually have a ceremonial nature, where his presence, as orchestrator of the event is decisive. At the root of these remarkable "events" is his fascination for Japanese culture and philosophy, more specific the expressive shinto-rituals. The city of Antwerp played no small part in the development of these performances. It was at the renowned Wide White Space Gallery in the year 1969 that Byars had his first European exposition. During this event the first acquaintance between I.C.C. director Flor Bex and the artist took place. This meeting resulted in a close collaboration, with an absolute highlight in the year 1976, under the form of the Extra Terrestrial exhibition and the several associated performances. Prominently present and always recurring in these performances is the ephemeral nature of the action.

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