James Lee Byars


4 April - 21 June 2009

Detroit born James Lee Byars (1932 – 1997), was one of the twentieth century’s most enigmatic artists. He emerged alongside a generation of artists such as Joseph Beuys and Marcel Broodthaers, who reinvigorated contemporary artistic practices with their own brand of Conceptualism. From the late 1950s until his death in Cairo, Byars made an expansive body of work in sculpture, installation, drawing, performance and mail/postal art. A truly international artist, he led a nomadic lifestyle and was a regular commuter between America, Japan and Europe.

The James Lee Byars exhibition in Milton Keynes provided a succinct overview of his practice, including sculptures, works on paper and rarely seen film documentation of his performances. A selection of Byars’ of letters and correspondence were presented in vitrines. The majority of works displayed were shown for the first time in the UK. Byars’ sculptures typically comprise simple, elemental geometric shapes: spheres, cylinders, cubes and cones. He made his work using exquisite, quality materials; the finest glass, granite, marble, gold leaf and even fresh red roses. The search for ‘perfect’ provided the philosophical framework for much of Byars’ work and was evident in many of the works displayed in the exhibition.

The exhibition was selected from Kunstmuseum Bern’s autumn 2008 survey exhibition. Milton Keynes Gallery is indebted to the exhibition’s many lenders, including: the Kunstmuseum Bern, the Toni Gerber Archive and the Hermann and Margrit Rupf Foundation, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and IVAM, Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno, Valencia and Marie-Puck Broodthaers and additional loans from public and private collections.

The James Lee Byars exhibition at Milton Keynes Gallery continued a programme strand that includes the work of overlooked contemporary “historical” or cult figures, recent examples being Stephen Willats, Marcel Broodthaers and Gilberto Zorio.

Press Release