“James Lee Byars, an American performance and installation artist whose idiosyncratic, Zen-influenced blendings of Minimal and Conceptual art stressed questions over answers, absence over presence and a lush momentary experience of beauty over permanence” – (Roberta Smith, 1997).
de Sarthe Gallery, Hong Kong is proud to present a collection of the works of enigmatic American installation, sculptor and performance artist James Lee Byars. Simplicity of theory, action conveyed through sincere intention and a strong and deliberate aesthetic are all components of the work of this elusive artist. Part nomad, part showman, Byars wandered in and out of the dynamic and innovative art world of modern New York in a flurry of style and artistic genius.
Byar’s notoriety within the art world came from his reputation as an “artists artist”. He was revered within the tight circles of the international art world, known to captivate both his contemporaries and audiences alike with his unique likable charm and forthrightness, but he never fully became immersed within the commercial art world until offer his death in Cairo in 1997.
Born in Detroit in 1932, Byars cuts a romantic figure within the art world of New York. He is an artist shrouded in notoriety and apocryphal anecdotes. Legend has it that in 1958 Byars travelled to New York from his home state as a young, unknown artist allegedly with the sole intention of meeting Mark Rothko. He presented himself at the front desk of the Museum of Modern Art and charmed the then curator Dorothy Miller so much so that within a year Miler allowed him his have his first New York exhibition of large works on paper in the emergency exit stairwell of the museum. An unimaginable feat today, and it marked the beginning of a career filled with travel, innovation and eccentricities.
Often defying definition or categorization, Byars moved between the static realms of his contemporaries. He was multidimensional and enigmatic in his approach to graphics and typeface, an early pioneer of their aesthetic power. A considerable amount of the artist’s career was spent in Asia, in particular Japan, and it is there that he embraced a simplicity of form and an appreciation for a well-timed gesture that infuses his work with an unparalleled spirituality and calm feeling of Zen.
de Sarthe Gallery will present a broad collection of works, such as Virtue which was created out of the material used for a performance that Byars’ did at the “Silent Friendship, 1960-1990′; 7 artists at the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art in Japan in 1999 that fully illustrates this extraordinary artist’s range and depth of insight. Reaction to the perfect Thought is a work in which Byars’ set fire to the text of James Elliot on Byars himself entitled “The Perfect Thought”. Also exhibited, are works created in the 70’s by Byars’ including, ‘The Perfect Bullets of the brain” from 1975. An installation of one gun and 21 bullets comprised of black tissue paper with graphite writings.
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