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.
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.
30cm dia. black card circle with the printed text in small text in the centre of one side - THE PERFECT LOVE LETTER - and on the other WRITE I LOVE YOU BACKWARDS IN THE AIR. Both sides are signed in white by Byars in his starry letting. One of a number of such works released in 1973 - each unique. VG+.
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.
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.
Hamburg: s.p. (Hacker), 1974 15.2 x 10.5cm, 28pp (self cover). Theoretical artist's book written by Hacker at a time when he was visiting professor at the Hochschule fur Bildende Kiinste, Hamburg. The book asks the question - "What Is the Sense of Painting?" and is part of the artist's slow return to the act of marking canvasses. The cover of the book shows a b/w photograph of James Lee Byars during a performance and a second b/w image inside the book appears to also be Byars performing on the side of the Rhine in the rain but this is uncredited. Small cut to the top right of the book that runs through all the pages but it is not very distracting. Else VG+.
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.
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.