That Time James Lee Byars Built a Wall Around the Office of His Los Angeles Dealer, Eugenia Butler

Dieter Roth, Staple Cheese, A Race, 1970.COURTESY THE EUGENIA P. BUTLER ESTATE

Dieter Roth, Staple Cheese, A Race, 1970.


Writer Matt Stromberg just published a profile of the storied Los Angeles art dealer Eugenia Butler on KCET’s Artbound website, and I highly recommend giving it a read. Butler, who worked early on with the dealer Virginia Dwan, ran an eponymous gallery in the city from 1969 and 1971, showing a wide range of vanguard conceptual art, though she is not as well known as some of her contemporaries, since her space was relatively short-lived and most of her archive was, tragically, destroyed.

The article has all sorts of wild stories, like details of Dieter Roth’s famous 1970 show with Butler, for which he let 37 suitcases of cheese go bad in her gallery. (“I think it’s one of the main works that was ever shown here in L.A., period,” Allen Ruppersberg has said.) Here’s another great one, new to me, which took place in 1969:

Later that year James Lee Byars—an enigmatic artist who was a favorite of Butler’s—built a wall around her office, separating it from the rest of the gallery. The work was called “Shutting up Genie.” According to the press release: “Her name comes down from the front of the building, and ‘Shutting up Genie’ is lettered in red on the wall directly behind the Gallery window, visible from the street. Eugenia Butler is forbidden by the artist to enter the Gallery exhibition space during this five-day period.”

Artists were creating special problems for their dealers all over the world that year: 1969 also saw Robert Barry doing his pieces that entailed closing galleries in Amsterdam and Turin. In March, as Stromberg notes, he did it at Butler’s gallery. MoMA curator David Platzer, who used to run the Specific Object bookstore and gallery, restaged the piece in 2011, and has lots of good information about it on his archived site. Here’s the Butler profile.

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