M HKA, Antwerpen
05 October 2018 - 20 January 2019
image: © Marc Poirier dit Caulier.
The nomadic performance and installation artist James Lee Byars (Detroit 1932 - Cairo 1997) challenged the post-war art world with a poetic attitude animated by three separate motifs: the question, perfection and death. His search for utter purity of intention and expression was bolstered by a desire to form a direct, and thus impersonal, understanding of the world, in this way transcending the Western romantic notions of self-expression and genius. His oeuvre is an idiosyncratic mix of the meditative, the theatrical, the participatory and the aesthetically 'perfect'.
The Perfect Kiss, presenting more than one hundred works, is the first retrospective exhibition by James Lee Byars in Belgium and simultaneously also a tribute to Byars as a European artist, a Belgian artist, even an Antwerp artist. Byars traveled for ten years between New York and Kyoto before arriving in Europe in 1969, invited by Anny De Decker and Bernd Lohaus for an exhibition at the Wide White Space Gallery in Antwerp (April 18 - May 7 1969). Byars quickly became part of a group of artists and art lovers around this groundbreaking gallery - Joseph Beuys, Marcel Broodthaers, Jef Cornelis, Nicole and Herman Daled, Isi Fiszman, and many others - and became a prominent figure in the European art scene with participations in five documenta's from 1972 until his death.
In 1976, Flor Bex organized the first comprehensive investigation into Byars work at the Antwerp International Cultural Center (ICC). It contained the collective performance The Shadow of an Extraterrestrial Man, of which the prop (also known as De Zwarte Reus van Antwerpen (The Black Giant of Antwerp)) is now one of the central works in the collection of the M HKA. This work has obviously been included in the exhibition.
The Perfect Kiss presents works in different genres and media (painting, sculpture, installation, video, performance and text), with a focus on Byars' presence in Belgium from 1969 to 1994, with works such as Two in a Hat, Mask and Dress, 75 in a Hat, A Pink Silk Airplane for 100 and The World Question Center (all from 1969), The Black Book (1971) and The Perfect Love Letter (1974). The beating heart of the exhibition is a selection of never-before-seen letters from Byars to his friends in Belgium.
James Lee Byars - The Perfect Kiss is the second in a series of monographic exhibitions at the M HKA, presenting important figures of the post-war avant-garde who were active in Antwerp and who situate the city within a network of scenes in the dense region of the Benelux and the Rhineland. The title of the exhibition refers to a performance that was presented frequently and worldwide, including in Brussels (1974) and in Antwerp (1976), and forms an inviting gesture after the Greetings from the Eurasian exhibition of 2017 which examined Joseph Beuys' activities in Antwerp. The last installment in this three-part exhibition will focus on Marcel Broodthaers, and will be presented in the fall of 2019.
Curator: Lotte Beckwé
On the occasion of this exhibition, an extensive publication will be published with more than 180 images of Byars' performances, installations, sculptures and letters. It documents Byars' works from his early European period from 1969 to 1976 and explores his ties with the Belgian art world. Publisher: M HKA / KOENIG BOOKS, LONDON. Editor: Lotte Beckwé. Text and/or images by: Magali Arriola, Bart De Baere, Lotte Beckwé, Marcel Broodthaers, James Lee Byars, Jacques Charlier, Melanie Deboutte, Anny De Decker, Isi Fiszman, Maria Gilissen, Els Hoek, Benjamin Katz, Viola Michely, Yves Petry, Katharina Sieverding and others.
Photo caption: A Pink Silk Airplane for 100, performance at Wide White Space Gallery, Antwerp, April 25, 1969. In the airplane on the first row Marcel Broodthaers, second row Isi Fiszman, third row Flor Bex. Photo: © Rudolf Walscharts.
> James Lee Byars, The Black Stone, 1958-1959. Object, laquered stone, 12.5 x 26 x 24 cm.
> James Lee Byars, Untitled, 1959. Other, ink on japanese paper on scroll, 317.5 x 251.5 cm.
> James Lee Byars, Selfportrait, 1959. Other, painted wood, black paper ball (in six parts), 161.5 x 33 x 199 cm.
> James Lee Byars, If you don’t wash your own you stay dirty, 1960. Print, typewritten on japanese note paper, 25 x 17.5 cm.
> James Lee Byars, A White Paper will Blow Through the Streets, 1967. Multiple, offset lithograph printed in black on a white circular paper sheet, Ø 63 cm.
> James Lee Byars, Letter to Jef Cornelis, Walter Van Dyck and Ludo Bekkers, 1969. Letter, pink silk paper, 9 x (51 x 70.5 cm).
> James Lee Byars, 100,000 Minutes or the Big Sample of Byars or 1/2 an Autobiography or the First Paper of Philosophy, 1969. Book, artist book, 26.8 x 20.8 cm.
> James Lee Byars, I’m collecting questions. Please list yours and send to Byars (Temp. Art. in Res.) Hud. Inst. Croton, N.Y. 10520, 1969. Other, paper, 43.2 x 28 cm.
> James Lee Byars, Wide White Space has been renamed the Institute for the Advanced Study of James Lee Byars, Antwerpen 1969, 1969. Other, paper star, Ø 11.5 m.
> James Lee Byars, Please limit all talking to the sound of O, as preview given by W.W.S. Antwerp to This is the Ghost of James Lee Byars Calling, 1969. Object, print on paper, golden frame, 34 x 94 cm.
> James Lee Byars, 5 in a Dress, 1969. Installation, pink silk, 200 x 500 cm.
> James Lee Byars, 75 in a Hat, 1969. Performance, red silk, 13.5 m x 30.5 cm.
> James Lee Byars, Two in a Hat, Mask and Dress, 1969. Installation, red silk, ca. 12 m.
> James Lee Byars, The Pink Silk Airplane, 1969. Sculpture, silk, wooden showcase, 560 x 250 cm, 175 x 150 x 50 cm.
> Jef Cornelis, James Lee Byars, The World Question Center, 1969. Film, single-channel video, b/w, sound, 01:02:06.
> Jef Cornelis, James Lee Byars, Antwerpen 18 April - 7 Mei 1969, 1969. Video, single-channel video, b/w, sound, 00:32:30.
> James Lee Byars, Autobiography, 1970. Video, 16 mm film transferred onto video, black and white, 00:10:00.
> James Lee Byars, Byars at the MET ...invisibly, NY, 1970. Other, pink envelope, two squared papers, 4.8 x 7.4 cm, 2.7 x 2.7 cm.
> James Lee Byars, 100 Minds, 1970. Photography, cut from 16mm celluloid, 15.7 x 22 cm.
> Photograph of performance 'Calling German Names' at documenta 5, Kassel, 1972. Photography, black and white photograph.
> James Lee Byars, Releasing 'O?', 1972. Letter, envelope and typewritten on transparent paper, 3.8 x 8.5 cm, 2.5 x 2.5 cm.
> James Lee Byars, The Wings for Writing, 1972. Object, red silk cuffs with feathers, 2 x (48 x 88 cm).
> James Lee Byars, A and B you ready to do some Fant. Show?, Wide White Space Gallery, Antwerp 1973, 1973. Other, paper invitation card, 12 x 15.7 cm.
> Philippe De Gobert, Performance James Lee Byars, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 1974. Video, black and white video, 00:17:22.
> James Lee Byars, The Golden Tower, 1974. Other, silkscreen on paper, 192 x 60.3 cm.
> James Lee Byars, The Black German Flag, 1974. Object, black silk, 250 x 470 cm.
> James Lee Byars, The Name of the Artist, 1974. Installation, 3 double-sided pieces, black wrinkled tissue paper, glass, wooden frame, 140 x 42.5 cm, 2 x (Ø 42.5 cm).
> Photograph of James Lee Byars and Joseph Beuys at the 'Je/Nous. Wij/Ik' exhibition, Musée d'Ixelles, Brussels, 1975. Photography, black and white photograph.
> James Lee Byars, TH FI TO IN PH, 1975. Object, wooden toothpick, 5.6 x 0.2 cm.
> James Lee Byars, Halo around the ICC, Antwerp, 1976. Other, white paper, 29.5 x 21 cm.
> Documentary photographs of 'The Extra-Terrestrial' at Essen University, 1976. Photography, black and white photographs, 7 x .
> Documentary photographs of 'Extra-Terrestrial' action in Antwerp, 1976. Photography, black and white photographs, 13 x .
> James Lee Byars, Extra-Terrestrial, ICC Antwerp, 1976. Miscellaneum, one-page catalogue, white paper in black cover, 29.5 x 21 cm, 29.5 x 42.5 cm.
> James Lee Byars, The Perfect Kiss, Antwerp 1976, 1976. Other, paper, 29.5 x 21 cm.
> James Lee Byars, The Shadow of an Extraterrestrial Man/The Antwerp Giant, 1976. Installation, black tulle, 17 x 245 m.
> James Lee Byars, Satie wrote nothing as light as his name, 1977. Photography, gold pencil on photograph, 77.5 x 58 cm.
> James Lee Byars, Hear TH FI TO IN PH Around This Chair, 1977. Installation, chair, carpets, black silk tent, 357 x 355 x 366 cm.
> James Lee Byars, Both, 1978. Sculpture, marble with engraved gilded text, 275 x 138 x 5 cm.
> Chris Goeyvaerts, The 100 Images Are in One Second, 1979. Video, colour, sound, 00:18:00.
> James Lee Byars, The 5 Continent Documenta 7, 1979. Other, black silk paper and white square, 110 x 48 cm, 2.5 x 2,5 cm.
> James Lee Byars, Q, 1980. Other, small paper confetti, ⌀ 1.5 cm.
> James Lee Byars, The Chair of the Artist at Harvard, 1980. Other, paper confetti, ⌀ 1.5 cm.
> James Lee Byars, Moonbook (Stonebooks), 1980. Installation, artist book, sandstone in display case, 3.7 x 41.3 x 29.4 cm, 175.5 x 146 x 46 cm.
> James Lee Byars, James Lee Byars interviewed by Paul De Vree at Documenta 7 in front of 'The Golden Tower', 1982. Audio and visual equipment, audio fragment from 'kroniek', 00:10:05.
> James Lee Byars, The Golden Tower with Changing Tops, 1982. Object, gold-plated bronze, 2 parts, 340 cm, Ø 80 cm.
> Photographs of a spontaneous performance by Joseph Beuys and James Lee Byars on the latter's work 'Both' at the opening of 'to the happy few', 1983. Photography, black and white photographs.
> James Lee Byars, Einstein, Stein and Wittgenstein, 1984-1989. Sculpture, gold-painted furka stones, 8 x 20 x 13.5 cm, 12 x 14 x 12 cm, 10.5 x 23.5 x 16.5 cm.
> James Lee Byars, Beauty Goes Avantgarde, 1986. Print, print on paper, 52.5 x 38.2 cm.
> James Lee Byars, The Tomb of James Lee Byars, 1986. Object, globe consisted of lime sand brick, 100 x 100 x 100 cm.
> James Lee Byars, The Letter Reading Society of James Lee Byars, 1987. Installation, two 17th century chairs and framed title in gold pencil on black silk paper, 18 x 353 cm.
> James Lee Byars, Tribute to the New Generation, 1991. Object, a disc of golden cardboard, with an embossed spiral on one side, Ø 1.8 cm.
> Unknown, The Death of James Lee Byars, Brussels, 1994. Video, 00:13:00.
> James Lee Byars, Untitled, 1994. Object, glass and paper, ⌀ 100 cm.
> James Lee Byars, James Lee Byars - The Perfect Kiss, 2018. Book, ink, paper, 28.7 x 20.2 cm, 143 p., ill., language : English, Dutch, publisher : Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen & Koenig Books, London, ISBN : 978-3-96098-423-8.
> James Lee Byars and the Rose on the Roof of the M HKA, 2018. Installation.
> James Lee Byars, Untitled. Object, 6 oysters, 38 x 35 x 8.5 cm.
> James Lee Byars, 666. Object, crushed egg shell.