new-york

James Lee Byars

Michael Werner Gallery

Shaman, charlatan, oddball, dandy—James Lee Byars carried off all these roles with flair, uniting them without contradiction. Like Yves Klein, whom he in many ways resembled, he brought to art a group of self-taught extracurricular ideas that set him somewhat beyond the grasp of art historians and critics (with the notable exception of Thomas McEvilley, one of the most convincing explicators of both men’s work). As with Klein, his thought lay as close to religion as to aesthetics, though if Klein was influenced by readings in Rosicrucianism, for Byars the deepest impression seems to have been left by the trips to Japan that he made repeatedly in the 1950s and ’60s, where he was particularly interested in the ways of Shinto priests. Like Klein, Byars embraced immateriality, creating performative, ephemeral artworks that, once completed, existed for posterity only as records and stories,

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