James Lee Byars

Days in Japan

by Sakagami Shinobu

In the twenty years since the death of the artist and aesthetic heretic James Lee Byars, episodes from his life have taken on the aura of urban legend. Born in Detroit in 1932, he spent much of his adult life outside the United States and died in Cairo, Egypt, in 1997. No country, however, influenced his development as an artist more profoundly than Japan, where he lived for most of the decade from 1958 to 1967 and immersed himself in Zen Buddhism, Shinto, Noh, the tea ceremony, calligraphy, and numerous other elements of Japanese aesthetic tradition. Yet virtually none of the literature written about Byars discusses that period of his life in depth, and it remains largely unknown to art critics and historians today. This book is the first thorough examination of the artist’s days in Japan—the evolution of his art there, and the experiences and relationships that shaped it—as well as of his final days and death in Egypt. Written by an art historian who has spent fifteen years researching the life and work of Byars, this is a seminal volume that satisfyingly elucidates the link between his art and Japanese culture.

“This detailed, investigative and painstakingly researched account of James Lee Byars’ years in Japan sheds entirely new light on the seminal period, early in his career, that would leave a definitive mark on his entire body of work. It is a necessary book for anyone interested in the work of this fascinating but often enigmatic artist.”
— Vicente Todolí, Artistic Director, Pirelli HangarBicocca

Sakagami Shinobu is an art historian and museum curator. Born in Tokyo, she earned a master’s degree at Kyoto City University of Arts. Since 2009 she has worked as a curator at the Yamazaki Mazak Museum of Art in Nagoya. As a historian she specializes in the prewar and postwar history of the avant-garde art movement in Kyoto, and has published several Japanese-language books on the subject, among them Hikosaka Naoyoshi: Three Events in Kyoto, 1972; Shiko-kai: Birth of the Ceramic Avant-garde in Kyoto, 1947-1956; and Kyoto Post-modernism in the Eighties. Her ten-article series James Lee Byars: Days in Kyoto ran in the art monthly Aida in 2012 and 2013, and an abridged translation appears in the catalogue for the exhibition James Lee Byars: 1/2 an Autobiography, held at MoMA PS1, New York in 2014. She also edited 50 years of galerie 16, a history of that avant-garde Kyoto art gallery.

200 pp, 6.6 x 8.25, Hardcover
100 images
Avant-garde art history / Japanese art history
ISBN: 978-1-891640-91-9