For summer, Michael Werner Gallery presents The Monument to Cleopatra, an exhibition of works by James Lee Byars. The exhibition features a major gilded sculpture, “The Monument to Cleopatra”, shown for the first time in New York. This major sculpture in Byars’s oeuvre embodies the artist’s life-long obsession with beauty and conceptions of death and the eternal. Shown with related gold wall works in paper and fabric, “The Monument to Cleopatra” symbolizes Byars’s unending search for perfection and simplicity in materials and form.
James Lee Byars was born in Detroit in 1932. He studied psychology at Wayne State University before departing for a 10-year residence in Japan. During his formative years abroad and in his frequent returns to America Byars developed a deep sensitivity to the materials and concepts that would become defining hallmarks of his life and work. An important legacy of Byars’s years in Japan is his appreciation of ceremony, formal rigor and the fleeting nature of beauty. Works from that time show Byars’s first experimentations with wood, stone, paper and gold, materials that would continue to fascinate the artist throughout his career. “The Monument to Cleopatra”, created in 1989, is a gilded marble “figure” evocative of Byars’s Japan period and the artist’s interest in manifestations of the human form in sculpture. This golden sarcophagus, with its low gilded pedestal and glass case, encapsulates Byars’s life-long obsessions with eternity, death and beauty, and foreshadows the many “figures” and “death” sculptures and performances that would emerge in later years.
Since his notorious 1958 exhibition in the stairwell of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Byars has been the subject of numerous gallery and museum exhibitions worldwide. His 1986 work “The Ghost of James Lee Byars” is currently included in Invisible: Art about the Unseen 1957 - 2012 at London’s Hayward Gallery. Recent major exhibitions include the survey exhibition I’m Full of Byars, organized by Kunstmuseum Bern; The Rest is Silence, curated by Klaus Ottmann in 2006, the most comprehensive survey of the artist’s work ever undertaken in the U.S.; The Perfect Silence, Whitney Museum of American Art, 2005; and the retrospective exhibition Life, Love and Death, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt and the Musée d’Art modern et contemporain de Strasbourg, 2004. Major solo exhibitions include IVAM Centre del Carme, Valencia; Castello di Rivoli/Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Turin; The Henry Moore Institute, Leeds; Fundaçao de Serralves, Porto; The Arts Club of Chicago; and Kestner Gesellschaft, Hannover.
The Monument to Cleopatra is on view at Michael Werner Gallery from 12 July through 31 August. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 10 am to 6 pm. For more information please contact the gallery or visit michaelwerner.com.