James Lee Byars, "The Monument to Cleopatra"

James Lee Byars, "The Monument to Cleopatra"
Courtesy of Michael Wener Gallery James Lee Byars, "Monument to Cleopatra"
Byars (1932–1997) was arguably one of the most enigmatic—if not inexplicable—artists ever produced by this country. Born in Detroit, Byars was a psychology major at Wayne State University before decamping to Japan in 1958, where he spent the next ten years. Japanese art and culture—particularly its highly stylized, ceremonial modes of expression—would prove to have a lasting impact on his work and life; indeed, there was very little distinction between the two. Byars travelled widely throughout the world, engaging in performance acts while often dressed in his trademark black top hat and gold lamé suit; he also created minimalist sculptural installations, which were often characterized by an expansive use of gold-leaf. The centerpiece of this show—a gilded marble entablature enshrined in a vitrine—is one such example.


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