Exhibition Past – NAVATE

12 October 2023 - 18 February 2024

Lee Byars

Curated by Vicente Todolí

Exhibition organized by Pirelli HangarBiccoca, Milano, and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid.

James Lee Byars (b. Detroit, Michigan, 1932 – d. Cairo, 1997), one of the most widely recognized American artists from the 1960s to the present, influenced an entire generation of artists in the fields of conceptual and performance art. Byars was always fascinated by Japanese culture, which exerted a deep influence on his artistic practice throughout his life. Throughout his oeuvre, Byars combined motifs and symbols from Eastern traditions and civilizations with a deep knowledge of Western art and philosophy, offering a unique personal view on reality and its physical and spiritual entities. Making use of different media, like installation, sculpture, performance, drawing, and speech, the artist created what can be described as a mystical-aesthetic reflection on the ideas of perfection and cyclicity, and on the human figure—its representation and dematerialization—often involving visitors directly in temporary actions or large-scale interventions. Central to his work was the artist’s relationship with the public, who were often invited to engage with the artist himself, responding by their presence to questions that he posed directly and indirectly through his works.

Arriving more than three decades after his last institutional exhibition in Italy, Pirelli HangarBicocca’s retrospective to James Lee Byars gathers large-scale works, created from 1974 to 1997, in which precious and refined materials, such as marble, velvet, silk, gold leaf, and crystal, are harmoniously combined with minimal and archetypal geometries, like prisms, spheres, pillars, and Baroque-like objects, in a play of symbolic and aesthetic cross-references between form and content. The retrospective features works coming from international museum collections that have rarely been exhibited, and that are presented in Italy for the first time. Beginning with multiple allegorical and formal meanings of matter, the exhibition dwells on themes that have run through the artist’s practice such as the search for perfection, doubt as an approach to existence and the finitude of the human being, inviting visitors to reflect on the alchemical potentialities of art to shape reality.

Some of the most important institutions that have exhibited the work of James Lee Byars include Red Brick Art Museum, Beijing (2021); M HKA, Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp (2018); MoMA PS1, New York(2014); Museo Jumex, Mexico City (2013); Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (2011 and 1964); Kunstmuseum Bern (2008); MoMA Museum of Modern Art, New York (2007 and 1958); Barbican Centre, London (2005); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams (2004); Museu Serralves, Porto (1997); Fondation Cartier pour l’art Contemporain, Paris (1995); IVAM Centre del Carme, Valencia, Museum Ludwig, Cologne (1994); Stockholm Konsthall (1992); Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Turin (1989); Kunsthalle Düsseldorf (1986); Philadelphia Museum of Art, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (1984); Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (1983); De Appel Foundation, Amsterdam (1978); Kunsthalle Bern, Busch-Reisinger Museum at Harvard, Cambridge (1978); Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek (1977); Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels (1974); Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1971). The artist’s works have been exhibited in numerous international events, including Venice Biennale (2013, 1999, 1986, 1980); Yokohama Triennale (2011); documenta, Kassel (1987, 1982, 1977, 1972).

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