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.
Dublin: DHG, 1997 24 x 24cm, outer white printed envelope content of two other envelopes – one white and one black – both 23 x 23cm. The black one has a circular cut piece of black tissue paper and is a paper multiple by Byars, the other (white) has a printed image of a stone on a square white sheet by McKenna. Byars’ last paper multiple before his early death in Cairo later in the same year. Fine although the outer white envelope has some marks and one closed tear in the glued flap. Scarce.
Paris: Point d’Ironie/Agnes b, 1997 42 X 30CM, 2pp. Single sheet printed offset with the text “The Perfect Death” in the middle of the black in gold. This was the first ever number of the Point d’Ironie produced only at an art event soon after Byars death. This example has some edge damage and creases and has been folded in the past but is an Uber-rare item.
N.p.: N.p., 1997 29.5 x 17.5cm, 4pp. What appears to be a magazine or book insert published soon after Byars' death as homage. The middle pages are printed in gold with no text. The holes for staples that presumably held this sheet in place in the middle of another publication can be seen else VG+. We would appreciate any information as to the original source of this publication.
NYC: Bound & Unbound/Leslie Tonkonow, 1998 30.8 x 21.4cm, blue on white small poster for a group show where all of the items were designed to rot or disappear over time – included work by James Lee Byars, George Maciunas, Dieter Roth, Andy Warhol, Alison Knowles, General Idea, and others. Folded twice for storage else VG.
Köln. Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Konig, 1999 22.5 x 14.55 cm. Unpaginated. Artist’s book published after the artist’s death – every page is black as are the boards and slip case and texts by Byars are included on some pages by die cut holes. One of 333 copies – fine. Rather beautiful.
Haute-Normandie: Editions Vitriol, 1999 17 x 14cm, unpaginated in cream silk covered boards and in original black plastic slipcase with hole. Monograph and exhibition catalogue with one full colour images of Byars. Text is white on white. VG but the choice of silk was unfortunate as it seems to sweat and stick to the plastic slipcase. The whole in a pink paper wrapper with gold closure sticker.
Edinburgh: Heart Gallery, 2007 10.5 x 15cm, 2pp. Announcement card with a text and one work reproduced (a plate of shaped bread) in colour verso. The first retrospective in Scotland of Byars’ work – much of this collection was shown at that time. Fine.