Pirelli HangarBicocca hosts an exhibition dedicated to James Lee Byars

From Oct. 12, 2023 to Feb. 18, 2024, Pirelli HangarBicocca presents the exhibition of James Lee Byars, one of the most enigmatic and mythical figures in 20th-century contemporary art.

From Oct. 12, 2023 to Feb. 18, 2024, Pirelli HangarBicocca presents the exhibition of James Lee Byars, one of the most enigmatic and mythical figures in 20th-century contemporary art. The exhibition, the first retrospective in Italy dedicated to the American artist since his death in 1997, is a journey through his layered work that has developed as an ongoing exploration of the deepest meanings of existence, on the borders between mysticism, spirituality and corporality.

The exhibition of James Lee Byars(Detroit, Michigan, 1932 - Cairo, 1997), curated by Vicente Todolí and organized by Pirelli HangarBicocca and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid (where a version of the exhibition project will be presented from April 25 to September 1, 2024 at the Palacio de Velázquez), gathers in the spaces of the Naves of Pirelli HangarBicocca a wide selection of sculptural works and monumental installations, created from 1974 to 1997 and coming from international museum collections, some rarely exhibited and presented in Italy for the first time The exhibition at Pirelli HangarBicocca also stems from the close relationship established between Vicente Todolí and James Lee Byars, to whom the curator dedicated two solo exhibitions at theIVAM Centre del Carme in Valencia in 1994 and at the Museu Serralves in Porto in 1997, of which he was also director in the past. James Lee Byars, one of the most recognized American artists from the 1960s to the present, has influenced an entire generation in conceptual and performance art.

Born in Detroit in 1932 and with a background ranging from art to psychology and philosophy, Byars has always been fascinated by Japanese culture, which has influenced his artistic practice throughout his life. Indeed, from the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s he lived between Japan and the United States. He also developed a close relationship withItaly, especially Venice, where in 1975 he made the famous performance The Holy Ghost, later deciding to live and work there for much of the 1980s. In 1989 he was also invited by the Castello di Rivoli to make his first retrospective in an Italian museum. In his art, Byars combines motifs and symbols from Eastern customs and civilization, such as elements of Nô theater and Zen Buddhism, with his deep knowledge of Western art and philosophy, offering a unique and personal vision of reality and its physical and spiritual components. Through the use of different media, such as installation, sculpture, performance, drawing and speech, in fact, the artist has given rise to a mystical-aesthetic reflection on the concepts of perfection and cyclicality, on the human figure-its representation and dematerialization-often through the direct involvement of the public in temporary actions or large-scale interventions. Central to his work is the relationship with the public, which is called upon to engage with the artist himself and to answer questions that he poses directly and indirectly with his works. Many of the works were conceived by James Lee Byars to be activated performatively by himself. Since his passing in 1997, this aspect calls for questioning the presence-absence of the artist, who throughout his life centered his practice on his personhood and depiction through actions, gestures, rituals, and by wearing clothing characterized by its visual and symbolic connection to the works. After more than 30 years since his last institutional exhibition in Italy, Pirelli HangarBicocca dedicates a retrospective to James Lee Byars, gathering large-scale works in which precious and refined materials, such as marble, velvet, silk, gold leaf and crystal, are harmoniously combined with minimal and archetypal geometries, such as prism spheres and pillars, and baroque objects in a play of symbolic and aesthetic cross-references between form and content.

At Pirelli HangarBicocca, starting from the multiple allegorical and formal meanings of matter, the exhibition dwells on the themes that have crossed the artist’s practice such as the search for perfection, doubt as an approach to existence and the finitude of the human being, inviting visitors to reflect on the alchemical potential of art in shaping reality. The exhibition route opens with the monumental The Golden Tower (1990). The audience is greeted by a 21.25-meter-high golden tower that sums up the artist’s investigation of the interplay between perfect forms and immutable materials. James Lee Byars made the first conceptual drawings of the work back in the early 1970s: conceived to be displayed in public spaces, in the initial idea it was to be over 300 meters high. It was first realized in 1990, when it was presented at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. The catalog A monographic catalog will be produced in conjunction with the retrospective, due out in November 2023 and published by Marsilio Editori. The volume will include a text by art historian and curator of the DIA Art Foundation, New York, Jordan Carter, an essay by art historian Sakagami Shinobu, a text by Alexandra Munroe, art historian and Senior Curator at the Solomon R.Guggenheim Museum, a joint contribution by artist Maurizio Nannucci, with whom Byars has had a long correspondence relationship, and his wife Gabriele Detterer, and an introduction by exhibition curator Vicente Todolí. It will also be accompanied by detailed fact sheets of the works in the exhibition, an in-depth chronology of the artist, and extensive photographic documentation of the exhibition.

On the occasion of the James Lee Byars exhibition, a series of public events, part of Pirelli HangarBicocca’s Public Program, will be organized. The first event will be held on Thursday, October 26 in Reading Room is a talk with Stephan Köhler - a curator who has collaborated with James Lee Byas since 1986.

Some of the most important institutions have exhibited the work of James Lee Byars, including Red Brick Art Museum, Beijing, (2021); M HKA, Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp, Antwerp (2018); MoMA PS1, New York (2014); Museo Jumex, Mexico City (2013); Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (2011 and 1964); Kunstmuseum Bern (2008); MoMA Museum of Modern Art, New York (2007 and 1958); Barbican Centre, London (2005); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams (2004); Museu Serralves, Porto, (1997); Fondation Cartier pour l’art Contemporain, Paris (1995); IVAM Centre del Carme, Valencia, Museum Ludwig, Cologne (1994); Stockholm Konsthall (1992); Castello di Rivoli Museo d’ Arte Contemporanea, Turin (1989); Kunsthalle Düsseldorf (1986); Philadelphia Museum of Art, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (1984); Musée dArt Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (1983); De Appel Foundation, Amsterdam (1978); Kunsthalle Bern, Bern, Busch-Reisinger Museum at Harvard, Cambridge (1978); Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek (1977); Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels (1974); Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1971). His work has been exhibited in numerous international events, which include Venice Biennale (2013, 1999, 1986, 1980); Yokohama Triennale (2011); documenta, Kassel (1987, 1982, 1977, 1972).

For all information, you can visit the official website of Pirelli HangarBicocca.

Pirelli HangarBicocca hosts an exhibition dedicated to James Lee Byars
Pirelli HangarBicocca hosts an exhibition dedicated to James Lee Byars

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