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James Lee Byars | the artist



The artist James Lee Byars
Born 1932, Detroit, USA.
Died May 23 1997, Cairo, Egypt.
Style and technique of the artist: Installation art, Sculpture Objects, Performance Art, Wolfgang Hahn Prize,

The Perfect Silence brings together a group of Byars’ works spanning the length of his career: three large-scale black ink drawings from his early years working in Japan; The Little Red Angel, a large floor sculpture composed of three hundred and thirty-three hand-blown red glass spheres; a group of carved marble sculptures in wooden vitrines, reflected in mirrors; and the American premiere of The Death of James Lee Byars, a spectacular room clad entirely in gold leaf, containing a gold sarcophagus-like form on which the artist’s co-ordinates are marked by five crystals.  In the original installation of The Death of James Lee Byars at the Marie Puck Broodthaers Gallery in Brussels, in 1994, the artist himself performed inside the gold room, lying on the floor in a gold lamé suit and black top hat, as he stated later, "practicing death." At the end of the performance, he replaced his presence with five crystals. For Byars, gold was a symbol of both light and sacrifice, leading ultimately to death, an omnipresent theme in the artist’s work.


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Silent Friendship

Perfect is my death word’

Ranging from group actions and performances to installations and sculpture, the work of James Lee Byars resists neat categorization. During his formative years in Japan, Byars was attracted to Zen Buddhism and Noh theater and studied traditional Japanese ceramics and papermaking…

The first time I realized the full performative potential of letter-writing was at a James Lee Byars show. The Detroit native, who died in Cairo in 1997, often composed his letters as folded drawing–sculptures decorated with a star-like script that was hard to read. Each one seemed like a kind of formal challenge to decipher the message and, in so doing, complete the artwork…

Letters From The World’s Most Famous Unkown Artist