James Lee Byars 1/2 an Autobiography

Artist James Lee Byars (1932-1997) seemed to live life both as a performance and an ongoing philosophical investigation. Living in the United States, Japan and Europe throughout his life, he studied philosophies and techniques wherever he went and participated in minimalist, conceptual and performance art practices. Writing was an important part of his life and he corresponded with people in the art world daily, his letters themselves becoming a work of art. His flamboyant expressions such as his habit of wearing a gold lame suit and his handwriting; large letters peppered with stars, contrasted with the austere minimalist work he produced. Through a mix of ritualistic performances and exercises in formality he brought things down to their essence, using only a few colors such as black, white, red and of course gold.

As one of their opening exhibitions Museo Jumex presented “James Lee Byars: 1⁄2 an autobiography” a retrospective of Byars work co-curated by Magalí Arriola of Fundación Jumex Arte Contemporáneo and Peter Eleey of MoMA PS1.



From the Fundación Jumex Arte Contemporáneo press kit : “James Lee Byars: 1⁄2 an Autobiography” is the most comprehensive museum survey of the work of James Lee Byars organized in North america since his death. The exhibition focuses on revealing the ephemeral and intangible nature of much of his art, while also highlighting the inherently incomplete summary that an exhibition offers of an artist’s life and work.

Obsessed by the idea of perfection, James Lee Byars created a remarkable body of work that strove to give form to his search for beauty and truth. Pursuing what he called “the first totally interrogative philosophy,” he made and proposed art at scales ranging from the vastness of outer space to the microscopic level of subatomic particles, attempting to delineate the limits of our knowledge while enacting a desire for something more

Through a selection of more than 125 sculptures, costumes, performable paper works, films, ink paintings, correspondence, ephemera, live performance, and documentation, the exhibition represents the full scope of the artist’s work.

The exhibition includes works and documents on loan from collections from all over the world such as moma, moma archives, the Getty research institute, the Berkeley Art and Pacific Film Archive, Kunstmuseum bern, De Appel arts center, as well as two works acquired by Colección Jumex for this exhibition.

This exhibition was co-produced by Fundación Jumex Arte Contemporáneo and MoMA PS1. in June 2014, the show will travel to MoMA PS1.”


The Conscience, 1985. Michael Werner Gallery, The Estate of James Lee Byars.

Photo via Fundación Jumex

Photo via Fundación Jumex

Is, 1987. Jumex Collection

The Golden Box for Speaking, 1973. The Hermann and Margrit Rupf Collection, Kunstmuseum Bern.

The Red Tent, 1989. Michael Werner Gallery, The Estate of James Lee Byars.


Photo via Fundación Jumex


Photo via Fundación Jumex


World Flag, 1991. Michael Werner Gallery, The Estate of James Lee Byars.


For more info, read Fundación Jumex’s exhibition guide, press kit and curatorial statement.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *