2017 Venice Biennale News

James Lee Byars Tower, 65 Feet Tall and Golden, Will Grace Venice During the Biennale

James Lee Byars, The Golden Tower, on view in 1990 at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin.MICHAEL WERNER

James Lee Byars, The Golden Tower, on view in 1990 at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin.


James Lee Byars, the elusive, enigmatic, and mystically inclined American artist who died in 1997, at the age of 65, once dreamed of installing a 1,000-foot-tall golden sculpture along the Berlin Wall. Sadly, that never came to be. However, Byars did create a few totemic golden sculptures throughout his life, the largest being a roughly 66-foot-tall piece, titled The Golden Tower, which was realized for a group exhibition at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin in 1990. (As you can see in the photograph above, it was pretty glorious.)

Byars had always wanted to exhibit the work in a public space, according to Michael Werner gallery, which represents his estate, and so this May, the gallery, in collaboration with the Fondazione Giuliani, will present the piece outdoors in Venice, as part of the Venice Biennale’s official program. The work is currently being crafted by Italian gilders and will be on view in the Campo San Vio, right next to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, from May 13 through November 26. It is, the gallery says, the largest piece ever made by Byars, who is perhaps best remembered for his performances, which were variously intensely moving and fairly absurd.

As it happens, Byars was no stranger to La Serenissima. He participated in an impressive four Venice Biennales, lived in the city at times, and collaborated with Murano glass artisans on his 1989 work The Angel, a sculpture made of 125 clear glass spheres arrayed in a flowing symbol on the ground, which was shown at Michael Werner in New York in 2006 and Werner in London in 2013. (Werner also has a gallery in Märkisch Wilmersdorf, Germany.)

The reappearance of The Golden Tower feels like salient news on aesthetic and historical grounds, but writing as someone who has regularly found himself lost in Venice, this seems like it just might be important for another reason: the work might be tall enough to serve as an orientation device. Not sure where you are in the city? Look to the heavens! Look for the golden Byars!

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