James Lee Byars

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA)

This installation of 25 works by James Lee Byars stressed a little-acknowledged effect of his work: frustration. Ordinarily, this discomfiture is the result of our inability to crack the code of Byars’ art, or perhaps of our being unable to decide whether it has any meaning except as evidence of his careerism. Here Byars fueled those quandaries by ruling out close inspection of his work. All the objects on view were corralled within a circle of gold leaf applied to the floor, a level down from the museum’s entrance. (An identical solid circle of gold—this one void of objects—was applied to the floor on the next lowest level.) The ramp leading from the museum’s main floor to the installation was roped off at Byars’ insistence, so that visitors could view the work only from vantage points around the parapet at entry level or from higher up, along the cantilevered concrete balconies that

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