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Review: Intriguing vision of James Lee Byars at Overduin and Kite

April 19, 2012|By Sharon Mizota
  • James Lee Byars, "The Chair for the Philosophy of Question," 1996.
James Lee Byars, "The Chair for the Philosophy of Question,"… (Brian Forrest )

James Lee Byars’ work always has an air of elegant mystery about it. The artist, who died in 1997, was influenced by Zen spiritual practices from Japan, where he spent some time in the early '60s. He was also something of a provocateur, alternately dramatic and self-effacing in his irreverent performances and installations. The three works on view at Overduin and Kite are an intriguing sampling of his wide-ranging oeuvre.

The show opens with a surreal suite of stone "books" -- blocks of white marble carved into geometric shapes -- encased in vitrines. These are arranged in two rows and flanked by long mirrors on either wall that create infinitely receding reflections. The overall impression is of being trapped in an endless display of rare books, except that these books are perversely mute and rather self-satisfied, sealed in smooth, chalky whiteness.

The next room reveals Byars’ flamboyant side: a large red silk tent, at the center of which is an ornate, oversized gilt chair that looks like the empty throne of some giant pasha. One can imagine Byars sitting in it (He sometimes sat in the gallery alongside his work.) It’s almost operatic, unabashedly lush, and a bit melancholy.

Finally, there is a short video work. A self-portrait, it looks like nothing but a hail of static and scratches, except that about halfway through, a tiny white figure wearing a hat flashes briefly on the screen. It’s so fleeting, you might have only imagined it, but it seems the perfect encapsulation of an artist at once theatrical and coy.

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-- Sharon Mizota

Overduin and Kite, 6693 Sunset Blvd., (323) 464-3600, through May 12. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.overduinandkite.com

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