Magalí Arriola
19.11.13 - 13.04.14

James Lee Byars:
½ an Autobiography

cover image

Curatorial statement

When he was thirty-seven years old—then half an average lifespan—James Lee Byars (Detroit, 1932—Cairo, 1997) wrote his “1/2 autobiography.” Sitting in a gallery, he jotted down thoughts and questions every time a visitor approached him, and published them afterwards in a book he also titled “the big sample of Byars.” Throughout his life, Byars constructed a myth around his persona, styling himself into a continuous performance that helped make him one of the most provocative and mythical figures in the art of the latter half of the twentieth century.

James Lee Byars: 1/2 an Autobiography features a selection of sculptures, fabric costumes, performable paper pieces, film, ink paintings, correspondence, ephemera, live performance, and documentation that focuses on the event of Byars’s work. The most comprehensive museum survey of James Lee Byars organized in North America since his death, the exhibition engages with the absence of Byars himself, and more generally highlights the inherently incomplete summary that a retrospective offers of an artist’s life.

Obsessed by the idea of perfection, Byars produced a remarkable body of work that strove to give form to his search for beauty and truth. Pursuing what he called “the first totally interrogative philosophy,” he made and proposed art at scales ranging from the vastness of outer space to the microscopic level of subatomic particles, attempting to delineate the limits of our knowledge while enacting a desire for something more.

After studying art and philosophy, Byars moved to Kyoto in 1958, where he spent much of the next decade. Influenced by aspects of Japanese Noh theater and Shinto rituals, Byars created and performed folded paper works at sites including Japanese temples and New York galleries, and made fabric pieces that served as costumes to join together two or more people in public performances. Throughout his career, he also produced a large quantity of printed books, ephemera and correspondence that he distributed among friends and acquaintances. Dispersed across a wide geography, they attest to Byars’s desire to be present—however fleetingly—in different places and times.

Byars lived and worked itinerantly, moving between New York, Venice, San Francisco, Kyoto, Bern, the Swiss Alps, Los Angeles and the American southwest, eventually choosing to die in Cairo. Posing his art confoundingly between apparent contradictions—the monumental and the miniscule, the universal and the personal, the luxurious and the minimal, the relic and the event, the spectacular and the invisible—Byars heightens the viewing experience. In the aesthetic interrogations he provokes, he suggests that perfection may occur not simply at the most evanescent edges of form, but also in the attenuated moments of attention spent trying to discern it.

A question, Byars remarked, is “the best statement of reality that I know.”

James Lee Byars: 1/2 an Autobiography is co-organized by Fundación Jumex Arte Contemporáneo and MoMA PS1.Curated by Magalí Arriola, Curator, Fundación Jumex Arte Contemporáneo; and Peter Eleey, Curator and Associate Director of Exhibitions and Programs, MoMA PS1.

Images

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Acknowledgements

This exhibit is a co-production of Fundación Jumex Arte Contemporáneo and MoMA PS1.

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Education

JAMES LEE BYARS Una carta poco común

How can a letter lead us to think and imagine different things?

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Museo Jumex / 12.04.14 / 00:00

JAMES LEE BYARS/CLOTHES TO DRESS AND USE

Museo Jumex invites children and teenagers to:

JAMES LEE BYARS/CLOTHES TO DRESS AND USE

Workshop imparted by Carla Fernández

March 16, 23 and 30

12–1:45 p.m.

The workshop will consist of one session. During this workshop we will create a piece of clothing inspired by James Lee Byars’s designs taking into consideration the way in which he created collective garments. Participants will use their creation to give a group presentation during the workshop.

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Museo Jumex / 16.03.14 / 12:00
Visit

Bridge Museo Jumex — Galería Ecatepec

Bridge

Sunday, February 23, 10:00 AM

Museo Jumex — Galería Ecatepec

Cost: $90.00

Bridge consists of a visit to both of our exhibition spaces: Galería Ecatepec and Museo Jumex.

A bus leaving from Museo Jumex will take us to Galería Ecatepec to visit SUPERFLEX’s exhibition, The Corrupt Show & The Speculative
Machine. We will then return to Museo Jumex to visit James Lee Byars - 1/2 an Autobiography and Cosmogonía doméstica de Damián Ortega.

Due to limited availability you must confirm your assistance to: visitas@fundacionjumex.org or 5395-2615

Registration opens on February 17th.

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Museo Jumex / 23.02.14 / 10:00