Byars is elephant


Installation with rope and golden fabric

Variable dimensions

In Byars is elephant, the environment is literally made of gold, from the ground to the walls, to the central stand wrapped in gold silk. On this pedestal sits a handmade ball of camel hair rope, a common object thus elevated to the rank of an object of worship. An existentialist symbol, this rope knot could represent a tangle of intestines, a physical reference to the stomach cancer from which the artist was suffering.

This installation, made by James Lee Byars a few days before his death, is part of a remarkable approach to staging his own demise. Fascinated by ancient philosophy, for this installation Byars draws inspiration from elements associated with Egyptian iconography and culture: the rope from pyramid building sites and the gold of the all-powerful pharaohs.

A mystical and metaphorical work of art, James Lee Byars’ Byars is elephant suggests a sublimation of death that hangs over the artist. Part of the Pinault Collection, it was first shown at the “Prima Materia” (“Raw Material”) exhibition at the Punta della Dogana.