Fondazione Giuliani, Rome, in collaboration with Michael Werner Gallery, is pleased to announce the presentation of James Lee Byars’s “The Golden Tower” in the Campo San Vio, Venice, on the edge of the Grand Canal. This presentation is an event of the 57th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, curated by Christine Macel on view from 13 May – 26 November 2017.
Byars envisioned “The Golden Tower” as a colossal beacon and oracle that would bridge heaven and earth and unify humanity – a contemporary monument surpassing the grandeur of the Lighthouse of Alexandria. The idea of “The Golden Tower” first began in 1976 and was developed with numerous conceptual studies throughout the artist’s career. The work was first exhibited in 1990 at the GegenwartEwigkeit exhibition at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, and later in 2004 at the posthumous retrospective Life, Love and Death at the Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt. Towering to a height of over 20 meters, “The Golden Tower” is the artist’s largest and most ambitious work. The Venice installation of “The Golden Tower” is the first to fully realize the artist’s intentions of presenting the sculpture in a public space.
“The Tower gives shape to a symbol of ascension, taking metaphorical aim towards the sacred mountain – a gilded machine to honor the gods,” says curator Alberto Salvadori of the work. “The splendor of gold hints at the symbol of the sun but also becomes a symbol of inner illumination, of intellectual knowledge and spiritual experience. A concept of divinity. That’s the deeper motivation in James Lee Byars’s use of gold … it is the ultimate symbol of greatness and the infinite.”
Located in the Dorsoduro, between the Accademia and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, “The Golden Tower” will be visible throughout many areas of the city. The tower’s brilliant gilded surface echoes the golden mosaic façade of the adjacent Palazzo Barbarigo. Its placement in Campo San Vio will recall Canaletto’s famous view of the Grand Canal, painted from that same spot.
“James Lee conceived of ‘The Golden Tower’ as a monument to humanity,” says Wendy Dunaway, the artist’s widow. “Venice was both his home and a metaphor for East meeting West. I can’t imagine a more fitting tribute in these times.”
The presentation of “The Golden Tower” in Venice, is also significant given Byars’s deep connections to the city. Byars lived off and on in Venice beginning in 1982. He worked closely with the master glass-blowers of Murano to realize his major 1989 sculpture, “The Angel”. Throughout his career Byars enacted numerous performances in Venice, including “The Holy Ghost”, Piazza San Marco, 1975; “The New Pink Flag of Italy”, also Piazza San Marco, 1980; and “The Death of James Lee Byars”, Punta della Dogana, 1993. Byars participated in four previous Venice Biennales, performing “Be Quiet” at the opening of the 39th Biennale and “The Poet of the Gondola” during the Biennale in 1986. Harald Szeemann included the sculpture “The Spinning Oracle of Delphi” in the 1999 Biennale and three gilded marble sculptures were included in the Biennale in 2013.
James Lee Byars was born in Detroit in 1932 and studied art and psychology at Wayne State University. He presented his first museum exhibition in 1958, a legendary event that took place in the stairwell of New York’s Museum of Modern Art and lasted only one day. Over the following decade Byars lived and worked in Japan where he presented many performances and exhibitions. In 1964 he was invited to present three performances at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Byars returned to America in 1967, dividing his time between New York and Los Angeles; by the 1970s he began to spend increasing amounts of time in Europe. Since that time Byars has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions worldwide, including Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Kunsthalle Düsseldorf; IVAM Centre del Carme, Valencia; Castello di Rivoli/Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Turin; The Henry Moore Institute, Leeds; and Fundaçao de Serralves, Porto.
Byars died in Cairo in 1997. Important posthumous exhibitions include The Epitaph of Con. Art is which Questions have Disappeared?, Kestner Gesellschaft, Hannover (1999); The Arts Club of Chicago (2000); Life Love and Death, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt and Musée d’Art moderne et contemporain de Strasbourg (2004); The Perfect Silence, Whitney Museum of American Art (2005); I’m Full of Byars, Kunstmuseum Bern (2008); The Perfect Axis, Schloss Benrath, Düsseldorf; and Klein Byars Kapoor, Musée d’art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain, Nice and ARoS Kunstmuseum, Århus, Denmark (2012-2013).
Most recently MoMA PS1 in New York presented James Lee Byars: 1/2 an Autobiography, the most comprehensive survey of Byars organized in North America since the artist’s death in 1997. Organized in cooperation with Museo Jumex in Mexico City, where it debuted in spring 2013, the exhibition featured a selection of sculptures, fabric works, performable paper pieces, ink paintings, live performance and ephemera.