James Lee Byars in Kunsthalle Bremen

A 5 sided golden room, perfectly lit is placed in the central hall of the Kunsthalle Bremen (@kunsthalle.bremen). Gold was the sign for eternity in icon painting (but also in other traditions) and is nowadays an obvious sign voor wealth and winners.

The story behind this particular artwork is a sad one, however. Used by American conceptual and installation artist James Lee Byars to stage his own death in a performance in a gallery in Brussels in 1994. Byars, suffering from cancer at the time, lay down on the floor and remained there motionless for some time, got up and left. Byars actually withdrew from the art world after the performance.

During his life Byars had done several similar performances where he would sit motionless in a space he designed, sometimes in gold, sometimes in black or colored fabric. Other work by Byars include paper and fabric sculptures, meant to be worn by multiple people. One notable example being the “Dress for 500”, a pink silk garment, worn by 500 people at the same time as they walked around the block near the Architectural League building on East 65th Street in Manhattan. A Google image search will provide some imagery of this performance, although I can’t make out whether there were actually 500 people participating.

James Lee Byars: “The Death of James Lee Byars” (1994).