press release

I Cancel All My Works at Death is the first comprehensive survey of the actions and performances of James Lee Byars (Detroit 1932 – Cairo 1997) to be presented in the United States. Titled after Byars' now-famous speech act, it adopts the premise that the artist and his work are better misremembered than re-experienced.

I Cancel All My Works at Death takes a theatrical approach to an unconventionally theatrical artist, who referred to his actions and performances as "plays." The large first gallery mimics the interior of a long-abandoned playhouse, with a patched theater curtain at its back, a single gold chair on a circular red carpet littered with glitter-speckled ceiling debris, and crumbling walls adorned with faux-Byars theater posters. Subsequent galleries exhibit newly created costumes and accessories, star-studded scripts, an assortment of props (none of which were actually used by the artist), casting photos, and static as well as animated photo-documentation, all of which has been altered. During the run of the show, new solo actions and group actions inspired by, but departing from, Byars' work will be carried out, sparingly and intermittently, by the exhibition's organizers.

The exhibition is written and directed by Triple Candie, a phantom-like institution that existed in Harlem as an alternative space from 2001 to 2010. Run by two art historians who now live in Philadelphia, Triple Candie produces exhibitions about art but devoid of it and realized without the involvement of artists. MOCAD's guest curator Jens Hoffmann invited Triple Candie to conceive this show; Triple Candie, in turn, invited Hoffmann to serve as the exhibition's dramaturge.

A Detroit native, James Lee Byars was a mysterious and enigmatic figure at the forefront of performance and conceptual art between 1960 until his death. After a decade in Japan (1958–67), he spent the majority of his career in Europe, traveling frequently back to Los Angeles and New York. His best-known works were realized at Documenta 5 in 1972 at the invitation of Harald Szeemann: On the opening days of the festival, he stood on the roof of the Fredericianum Museum under a mass of red tulle and shouted common German names through a megaphone to the visitors in the plaza below.

Exhibition programming support is generously provided by the Taubman Foundation and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Arts. Additional funding for programming and educational initiatives is provided by the Edith S. Briskin/Shirley K. Schlafer Foundation. Additional support is provided by The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and Renaissance Media.

Written and directed by Triple Candie with dramaturgy by Jens Hoffmann

James Lee Byars: I Cancel All My Works at Death

James Lee Byars