Station: [3] James Lee Byars, Untitled (Sigmund Freud) 1989


An Experience of Stillness and Emptiness: The mystical sphere covered in gold leaf is a work by the “magician of silence” James Lee Byars (*1932 in Detroit; †1997 in Cairo). Its classical and noble form and hue are an illustration of existential concepts such as perfection, beauty and immateriality. Byars’ thinking is mainly rooted in Platonism and Zen Buddhism. His artworks in elementary geometric forms (sphere, circle, crescent, square) are representations of the spiritual and the idea, designed in such a purist and reduced form that they intimate self-dissolution from the material to the ethereal. The mysterious golden sphere in Cologne’s Sculpture Park also suggests a potential rotation that recalls the Zen wheel of life. This visualizes the idea that nothing is lost when someone dies, and nothing is added when someone is born. There is only the permanent transformation of outward forms. The golden color, in turn, makes the sphere seem unapproachable. As James Lee Byars said himself: “Gold is very mysterious, […] the color from nowhere […] Gold leads me into the infinitely mystical.” As poet, philosopher and provocateur, he was - no later than the early 1970s - a fixed star in the western firmament of artists. During the turmoil of the legendary 1972 documenta, he had to be brought down from a tree by firemen, where he had seated himself to shout “tree” through a megaphone: a provocative performance at the time. His artistic production is a symbiosis of Conceptual Art, Minimalism and Fluxus.

James Lee Byars

Untitled (Sigmund Freud), 1989

Bronze, gold-plated

Permanent loan Michael and Eleonore Stoffel Foundation

© Stiftung Skulpturenpark Köln, 2015, Photo: Axel Schneider, Frankfurt am Main