Hear TH FI TO IN PH Around This Chair And It Knocks You Down
The Van Abbemuseum Collection consists of over 2800 artworks. We publish texts and images on an ongoing basis, but this record is currently in the process of being documented.
Two gold-coloured rugs with patterns of plants woven into them lie inside a cube- shaped tent of black silk. An antique Spanish chair stands on the rugs. This wooden chair is upholstered with a golden material with patterns of plants woven with white thread. The front of the tent has an opening through which the public can look in, and the chair faces the opening.
From the late 1950s James Lee Byars made sculptures and installations, as well as giving performances. His work is characterized by a search for perfection. Byars often used geometric forms such as a circle, sphere, cube or crescent moon. In addition, he opted for valuable and sophisticated materials such as silk, velvet, gold leaf and gemstones. Using these forms and materials he made sculptures which radiate a devout, rather mysterious or mystical atmosphere. Byars’ work was not concerned with material aspects. In fact, with this perfection he actually aimed to make the immaterial and spiritual aspects tangible. Like the German artist Joseph Beuys, he wanted to connect art and life. However, in contrast with Beuys, Byars did not base his work on his personal history. He presented himself as an anonymous figure, a sort of magician dressed in black, white or golden garments.
He wanted to encourage the public to think and ask questions. The answers were not important. The two capital letters repeated five times in the title of this work stand for: THe first TOtally INterrogative PHilosophy. The complete title of this installation, “Hear the first totally interrogative philosophy around this chair”, expresses Byars’ focus on questions. The scene that he created invites reflection. The space you look into is bordered with black and golden materials. Gold glitters and reflects the light best, while black is the opposite and absorbs light. Both are symbols of the absolute. The chair is the place for a writer, a scholar, someone who thinks. The way in which Byars positioned it is reminiscent of a place where someone can sit for an interrogation or instruction. However, the chair is empty. Questions can be asked, there is room for reflection, but there are no answers.
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