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James Lee Byars

Shaping reality

Inspired by Japanese culture from his early days as an artist, American James Lee Byars studied diverse disciplines, from art to psychology to philosophy, and exerted a deep influence on an entire generation of artists. A nomadic and versatile artist, who could use installation, sculpture, performance, drawing, and speech, Byars was able to involve the audience, often invited to engage with the artist himself and answer questions that he posed directly and indirectly through his works. From October 12, 2023 to February 18, 2024, Pirelli HangarBicocca dedicates him a retrospective gathering large-scale works enriched by precious materials, such as marble, velvet, silk, gold leaf, and crystal, and geometries, like prisms, spheres, pillars. The exhibition opens with the monumental The Golden Tower (1990): visitors are welcomed by a golden tower 21,5 meters high, which sums up the artist’s investigation into the interaction between perfect forms and immutable materials. James Lee Byars made the first conceptual drawings of the work back in the early 1970s, when it was supposed to be over 300 meters high. It was first realized in 1990, when it was presented at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. With The Tomb of James Lee Byars (1986), the artist metaphorically enclosed in a sandstone sphere the intangible and absolute concepts of spirituality and purity, in contrast with the porous and layered material.

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