JAMES LEE BYARS

James Lee Byars was born in Detroit in 1932. An early interest in sculpture and oriental art took him to Japan and the far East before returning to Europe and creating a strong body of work which might be regarded as “romantic minimalism”. By the 1970s he was regarded as one of the USA’s most important conceptual artists.

He was best known for a series of slight performance art actions (such as giving a brief smile to the world after emerging from a museum window) as well as very large and very small sculptural works. The use of paper (and particularly unusual papers) in editions and printed material was also a regular motif. Some of Byars’ works are just a few millimetres in size, others were the size of entire streets.

Byars also created unique letters for many of his friends and these constructions – often written in an unusual “starry” hand – are usually regarded as unique works by the artist on par with his sculptures. They are keenly collected.

Byars suddenly died in Cairo in 1997. His grave is a simple one – and its monument does not match the artist’s pure aesthetic – a final irony.

This collection of over 100 unique works, editions, documents and ephemera display a width of Byars’ artistic endeavours. It has been collected over 15 years by curator Paul Robertson and is currently in the hands of Unoriginal Sins. We will be displaying the entire collection here in this section of the website.New items will be added all the time – do check back.

BLACK DRESS (FROM SMS PORTFOLIO NR 1). 1968.

NYC: Letter Dressed in Black Press, 1968 25 x 25cm black envelope with a silkscreen image of Byars Four in a dress. Content of a folded “dress”, With 3 holes and 1 “cap” representing the 4 dancers who performed in a 1968 performance sculpture by James Lee Byars. The dress opens out to 50cm dia. One of 1,200 copies released as part of Copley’s famous SMS portfolios.

THIS IS THE GHOST OF JAMES LEE BYARS CALLING. 1969.

Los Angeles: Eugenia Butler Gallery, 1969 15 x 21cm, 1pp typographic announcement card card with the text printed offset in black: “This is the Ghost of James Lee Byars Calling. 615 N. La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.” on a pink yardstick. The famous performance in the conceptual art gallery. Rare variant announcement. Fine.

THE EPITAPH OF CON. ART IS WHICH QUESTIONS HAVE DISAPPEARED. 1969.

Antwerpen: Wide White Space, 1969 A long horizontal strip of white paper (7 x 80 cm), with text printed offset black (0.55 x 34.3 cm). Together with the large white paper envelope (24.2 x 30 cm), with text printed offset black, in which the ephemera, being crumpled in a ball shape, had to be placed. Our copy is flat and unfolded.

100,000 MINUTES / OR THE BIG SAMPLE OF BYARS/ OR 1/2 AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY / OR THE FIRST PAPER OF PHILOSOPHY. 1969.

Antwerpen: Wide White Space, 1969 27 x 20cm, unpaginated (200pp printed recto only). Original wrappers. Byars’ first ever artist’s book printed black on pink paper. One of only 250 examples. VG+.

THIS IS THE GHOST OF JAMES LEE BYARS CALLING. 1969.

Los Angeles: Eugenia Butler Gallery, 1969 16cm dia, pentagon shaped gold card with the text printed offset in red: “This is the Ghost of James Lee Byars Calling. 615 N. La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.”. The famous performance in the conceptual art gallery. Scarce.

PLEASE COME TO THE TV BALL….. 1969.

N.p.: n.p. 1969 35cm x 35cm, red tissue paper in the shape of a five pointed star with the text: “Please come to the TV Ball at the Garden Store Showroom on Fear. 27 at 7pm (for 1 hour as Tribute to Jeff (sic actually “Jef”) Cornells and the TV Staff and to the success of the James Lee Byars world Question Centre. The World Question Center, was a construction of the artist which was featured in a live broadcast on Belgian television in 1969, where students phoned famous intellectuals to discover what questions they were asking themselves. This rare ephemera is one of the earliest of Byars’ paper works. Folded for mailing there are tiny tears on some edges but over all VG for such a delicate item.

JAMES LEE BYARS AT WIDE WHITE SPACE. 1969.

Antwerpen: Wide White Space, 1969
12 x 12cm, 2pp. Typographic card with tiny text printed green on white. Notes the performances of A PINK SILK AIRPLANE FOR 100 1000 MINUTES OF ATTENTION OR 1/2 AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF JAMES LEE BYARS. VG+.

TWO UNIQUE LETTERS BY JAMES LEE BYARS FROM THE EARLY 1970S

Byars, James Lee LETTER TO PAUL JOLLES c. 1968 – 1974 Three semi-circle sheets of black paper – approx 31 x 15.5cm, both with original gold writing on them – the texts read CONGRATULATE YOU, ON THE NEW FIVE 5 and R. COIN BRILLIANT respectively. All in original 11.5 x 11.5cm white envelope with a large J in starry lettering (also in gold) and numbered 1 also by Byars. The black paper is folded twice to fit the envelope. AND JOINT WITH Byars, James Lee LETTER TO PAUL JOLLES c. 1968 – 1974 Two semi-circle sheets of black paper – approx 31 x 15.5cm, all with original gold writing on them – the texts read MONEY (YR DESIGN) and P.S.I. respectively. Both in original 11.5 x 11.5cm white envelope with a large J in starry lettering (also in gold) and numbered 2 also by Byars. The black paper is folded twice to fit the envelope. Paul Jolles was a Swiss diplomat who Byars befriended after he met the artist at the Toni Gerber Gallery in Bern. One paper scuff on the opposite side of the letter (where there is no text) and heavily folded but a typical and early brief from the romantic minimalist. The two letters should be read in order to make sense of the entire message.

ISI AFTER ALL THE ANTWERP EXCITMENT…. UNIQUE LARGE HANDWRITTEN LETTER. 1970.

53 x 53 cm, blue ink on light blue paper. A unique handwritten letter from Byars to Isy Fiszman (a patron of the arts who supported a number of artists including Marcel Broodthaers, Joseph Beuys, Panamarenko, Hanne Darboven and others as well as Byars. The text of the letter is hinting (as always with Byars) for money. it reads: "Isi after all the Antwerp excitement I've lauded on cool circumstance, finding as I guess happened at Dusseldorf few details considered well done and compromise without informing me beforehand whereby I could have made adjustments so it is not good for me to ask for support for A at this time. I do hope it goes on and I will tell everybody about it - could you fly a young artist over? Later on? Of course I'll be looking for correspondence type works - the tape record didn't arrive not did the autobiography?? 1000s of messages are here - I'm editing for an eatable (sic) book - I look forward to more of you and Antwerp if all goes well. Love J'. Folded for storage/sending else VG+.

THE GERTRUDE STEIN BOOK. 1970.

USA: s.p. (Byars), 1970 48 x 28 cm b/w offset lithographic print on wove paper with a tiny text in the middle of the sheet. A scarce and relatively early print multiple by the romantic minimalist. VG+. Rare.

THE BLACK BOOK OF JAMES LEE BYARS. 1971.

Köln : Galerie Michael Werner, 1971 15 x 10.5cm, 1pp. Announcement card printed in gold on black. Fine.

THE BLACK BOOK OF JAMES LEE BYARS. 1971.

Köln : Galerie Michael Werner, 1971 15 x 10.5cm, 1pp. Announcement card printed in gold on black. Fine.