James Lee Byars: 1/2 An Autobiography

MoMA PS1 presents the most comprehensive museum survey of James Lee Byars (Detroit, 1932–Cairo, 1997) organized in North America since his death. The exhibition, which includes documentation and works across a range of mediums and occupies the entire second floor of MoMA PS1, confronts the absence of Byars himself, and more generally highlights the inherently incomplete summary that a retrospective offers of an artist’s life. 

When Byars was 37 years old—then half an average lifespan—he wrote his “1/2 autobiography.” Sitting in a gallery, he jotted down thoughts and questions every time a visitor approached him, and published them afterwards in a book he also titled The Big Sample of Byars. Obsessed by the idea of perfection, Byars produced a remarkable body of work that strove to give form to his search for beauty and truth. Pursuing what he called “the first totally interrogative philosophy,” he made and proposed art at scales ranging from the vastness of outer space to the microscopic level of subatomic particles, in an attempt to delineate the limits of our knowledge while enacting a desire for something more.

The exhibition is co-organized by MoMA PS1 and Fundación Jumex Arte Contemporáneo, and curated by Peter Eleey, Curator and Associate Director of Exhibitions and Programs, MoMA PS1; and Magalí Arriola, Curator, Fundación Jumex Arte Contemporáneo; with Jocelyn Miller, Curatorial Assistant, MoMA PS1; and Javier Rivero, Curatorial Assistant, Fundación Jumex Arte Contemporáneo.

Support for the publication is provided by The International Council of The Museum of Modern Art.