James Lee Byars’s grandest work, The Golden Tower, has landed in Venice and it is glorious. Byars first dreamed up the gilded piece, which is more than 65 feet tall, in 1976 and showed it in various iterations, but never before has it been on display outside, at full scale, in a public space. Now it is awaiting all admirers in the Campo San Vio, pretty much right next to the Palazzo Cini and a very brief walk from the Gallerie dell’Accademia, as an official collateral project of the Venice Biennale. Rome’s Fondazione Giuliani is presenting the work with Michael Werner Gallery. (More on the work here.)
Venice is a city of gold—the material adorns buildings and statues all over the place—and with The Golden Tower, Byars, who lived here for stretches, offers a concentrated helping of it. Cruising on a vaporetto yesterday, many of my fellow riders swooned when they spotted it, snapping photos and wondering aloud what in the world they were looking at. A few let out surprised and good-natured laughs, which also seems like an appropriate response. The thing looks like it has landed from another planet, and on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most phallic, this is something like a 9 or a 9.5.
Given its central location, the work is pretty much impossible to miss, but when you find yourself on land, make a point of walking up close to the thing and getting a look at that expert gilding. It’s really something.