Through February 2024 at HangarBicocca in Milan, the first Italian retrospective dedicated to James Lee Byars “In Everything There is a Question” is presented. The works pose questions about existence through mythological symbols and metaphysical objects
The hangar spaces are filled with gilded bodies, works of the ephemeral that show Byars’ artistic research and his philosophical world that investigates the deepest aspects of human experience.
The exhibition also stems from a relationship with curator Vicente Todolí, who previously dedicated two solo exhibitions to the artist, in 1994 at the IVAM Centre del Carme in Valencia and in 1997 at the Museu Serralves in Porto.
Produced in collaboration with Madrid’s Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and with the support of The Estate of James Lee Byars, the exhibition narrates myths, rituals, mysticism, spirituality and corporeality through a selection of sculptural works that are particularly representative and emblematic of Byars’ artistic, philosophical and relational vision.
Precious materials are combined with minimal geometries in an interplay of symbolic and aesthetic references. “Probably one of the most important philosophical moments is when you realise that almost everything is a big question. Or at least, in everything there is a question,” said the artist.
Opening the space is The Golden Tower, a work of monumental dimensions totally covered in gold. It is a monument dedicated to mankind, a means of conjunction between perfection and the limits of man, a beacon marking a precise route, an exhibition journey among mystical bodies laden with symbols.
Walking through the space, passing from one work to the next, the feeling is that of remaining in limbo, in a timeless dimension, where the works emphasise the finitude of the human being and invite visitors to reflect on the alchemical and transformative potential of art.
Walking down the aisle one comes across The Unicorn Horn, a narwhal tooth placed on a voluminous white silk cloth that recalls the world of relics, of the extremely precious. A reference to the ancient, mythological world, a false testimony to the existence of unicorns that, nevertheless in that ephemeral position, celebrates the preciousness and rarity of that “horn” linked to mystical properties and to the reference to purity and perfection that the mythological animal symbolises.
The concept of perfection is investigated by The Hole for Speech, a large circular sheet of glass with a golden hole in the centre. initially accompanied by a performance by the artist, visitors were invited to verbally express their concept of perfection through the orifice. The work now becomes a large ear, an example of Byars’ deep interest in speech, a place where visitors can isolate themselves and experience ‘brief moments of introspection’.
Also on show is The Conscience, a small golden sphere enclosed in a glass case. If the previous work resembles a gigantic ear, this one looks like a small golden eye enclosing an entire world.
The exhibition concludes with Red Angel of Marseille, one of the artist’s most iconic works. A thousand small red glass spheres compose a symbol, an angelic, mystical figure, a blossoming tree that reduces the human figure to its essence.
The whole exhibition is full of symbolism, precious, ephemeral and mystical references that show James Lee Byars’ distinctive approach to art, volumes, the search for perfection, doubts and questions about human limits. The exhibition invites visitors to reflect on the alchemical potential of art and its ability to shape worlds and reality.