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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.

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.

NOT I. 1973. UNIQUE APPROPRIATED BOOK SENT BY BYARS TO JAMES BUTLER. 1973.

Beckett, Samuel NOT I London: Faber & Faber, 1973 19.5 x 12cm, 16pp plus original wrappers. First edition of this printing of the famous solo play where an isolated mouth tells a rambling tale of a life from the point of death backwards. Byars has appropriated this important book as he often did with publications he deemed important or, in some way, conceptual and has written in pencil “J. LOVES J.” on the first blank page in his starry letting. He then sent the book to James Butler – his close friend and gallerist. The text means “James Loves James”. A unique work with amazing association.

A & B READY TO DO SOME FANT SHOW LOVE B. 1973. ADDRESSED TO JAMES BUTLER WITH NOTE.

Antwerpen : Wide White Space, 1973 15 x 10.5cm, 2pp. Announcement card printed blue on white on the front with the title starry drawing. This example of the card is hand addressed to James Butler and with a note from Byars to his close friend and gallerist. Fine with an amazing association.

RECORD AS ARTWORK. 1973.

Milano: Françoise Lambert, 1973 17.8cm dia. – cardboard imitation single record (two sided) for this early musical group show curated by Germano Cleat. A large number of artists are listed including Boltanski and Byars. Fine. Rare,

THE GOLDEN TOWER. 1974.

Byars, James Lee Berlin: Galerie R. Springel, 1974 180 x 48cm. Two conjoined sheets of black paper printed in gold. The length of both sheets together is equivalent of Byars height (5’11”). Texts in the top half consist of 100 sentences selected from Shakespeare edited by Byars, containing the word ‘Gold’, the texts in the bottom half consist of texts by H. Szeemann, K. Ruhrberg, T. Deecke, H. Retzner, L. Burkhardt, W. Schmied, M. Haerdter, prof. Eliot. Issued as the “catalogue” for the exhibition “The Golden Tower”, under the artist program, the Berliner Künstlerprogramm des DAAD, 1974. Framed in wood and glass – fine.

JAMES LEE BYARS. 1974

Heidelberg: Edition Staeck, 1974 15 x 10.5cm, 2pp artist postcard – a portrait of Byars in black goggles and hat with Duchamp’s famous work “Bottle Rack” behind him (almost crowning the artist) taken by Sigmar Polke. Fine.

THE PERFECT KISS. 1975. BOTH BLACK AND WHITE VARIANTS WITH ENVELOPE.

Paris, June 7, 1975 10 x 15.5 cm, 1pp announcement card with the embossed text: “The Louvre secretly invites you to the perfect kiss presented by James Lees Byars by the favour of the Germains at the door of the pavilion Denon on Saturday June 7th 1975 at 11 A.M. exactly”. Designed by J.L. Byars. This is the black variant. JOINT: Original black envelope the card was mailed in. AND Paris, June 7, 1975 10 x 15.5 cm, 1pp announcement card with the embossed text: “The Louvre secretly invites you to the perfect kiss presented by James Lees Byars by the favour of the Germains at the door of the pavilion Denon on Saturday June 7th 1975 at 11 A.M. exactly”. Designed by J.L. Byars. This is the white variant.

A MILLION RANDOM DIGITS WITH 100,000 NORMAL DEVIATES. 1975. UNIQUE APPROPRIATED BOOK

NYC: The Rand Corporation, 1975 27 x 20.7cm, 200pp. black boards. An appropriated book which Byars has claimed as his own by signing the first black end paper with his name and the date in his starry letting. Given as a gift the book is a listing of supposed random numbers which clearly appealed to Byars interest in the immaterial and the universal. Fine condition. Unique.

BUTLER THE WORLD’S MOST GRACIOUS MAN. BYARS. 1975. UNIQUE MAIL ART.

16 x 8cm, 6pp. Single folded printed card. Unique mail art work sent from Bern to James Butler by Byars in August 1975 (from postmark) comprising a breakfast menu from the hotel (Guten Morgen/Bonjour/Good Morning/Ohayo Gozaimasu/Buenos Dias/Buon Giorno/Boker Tov printed on the front) and on the open middle pages with the food options Byars has written across the top in his starry handwriting :”BUTLER THE WORLD’S MOST GRACIOUS MAN. BYARS” and on the back panel “WITH SOFT SEATS AND A 2 O’CLOCK CHECKOUT TIME EXQUIS INTELLIGOUT” (sic). JOINT WITH 9 x 17,3cm, pink mailing envelope hand addressed by Byars with return hand written address. A mailed and franked example./ Unique work.

ANNOUNCEMENT LEAFLET FOR DER APPEL. 1975.

Amsterdam: Der Appel, 1975 30 x 21cm, 1pp. Announcement leaflet for a series of performance actions by Byars. One large image of the artist holding a long golden pole in a field. Fin

THE PLAY OF DEATH. 1976.

=Koln: Byars, 1976 15 x 50cm, white on black poster/banner with title press. The Play of Death was a performance by Byars sponsored by Dr Reiner Speck who reserved the 13 first-floor rooms of the Domhotel Cologne where at 12am on a particular date all the shutters were simultaneously thrown open by Byars and 12 doctors dressed in black. Very scarce. Fine.