North Adams

Untitled, 2003.

Untitled, 2003.

North Adams

James Lee Byars

Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA)
87 Marshall Street
January 7–June 7, 2004

Curated by Pan Wendt

James Lee Byars started every day by writing a letter to someone, often an artist (he sent about 150 to Joseph Beuys alone) but also collectors, dealers, intellectuals, even public figures. The roughly thirty letters on view date from 1973 to 1980 and are, according to the curator, representative of Byars’s larger practice. Addressed to art historian and painter David Sewell and to art historian Charles W. Haxthausen, they are intimate poems and abstract objects at once: written on a variety of papers, tissue and toilet included, typically in gold or white pencil. Byars’s lifelong project of self-mythologization, evidenced by these letters, is epitomized by his gold suit, which is also on display. To be an artist is to be a higher being, Byars thought, and he lavished his art on remaining one.