james lee byars


In Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism (1951) Erwin Panofsky argues that the builders of Gothic churches did not need to read scholastic philosophy in order to adopt a similar worldview, for “they were exposed to the Scholastic point of view in innumerable other ways….” Very often art too reflects the period style of its supporting culture. By displaying Judd’s art on the twentieth and twenty-first floors in midtown Manhattan, in rooms with large windows on all four sides of the building, Christie’s allows us to see how his sculptures and wall pieces mirror the architecture of America. Look from his boxes and stacks to the windows of the nearby skyscrapers, or compare his corner piece linking two panels with a black pipe and his wood blocks with horizontal and vertical lines to the banal architectural structures outside the gallery. In the city at large, as in Judd’s art, regular geometric divisions are omnipresent. He reconstructs our urban environments, making aesthetic the city’s basic visual vocabulary. It was instructive to walk from Renzo Piano’s newly opened reconstruction of the Morgan Library and Museum a few blocks uptown to Christie’s. The new steel-and-glass pavilions at the entrance, thrust into the older Renaissance-style palazzo designed by Charles McKim, bear a striking resemblance to Judd’s boxes. Christie’s most generous gift to the public (April 3 – May 9, 2006), the highest display of art I have yet visited, and one of the best, effectively presented Judd’s vision. James Lee Byars’s “The Rest is Silence” was dispersed amongst gallery spaces of three New York dealers. And so when you traveled from Michael Werner uptown down to the Chelsea galleries of Mary Boone and Perry Rubenstein, it was natural to reflect upon the relationship of Byars’s art to its urban setting.

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