Spotlight: In Venice, a Show Highlights the Common Themes of Two Disparate Artists

Supported by Michael Werner Gallery, the dual-artist show traces the parallels—and divergences—of these storied artists.

Installation view of "Invisible Questions That Fill the Air: James Lee Byars and Seung-Taek Lee" (2024) at the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettre ed Arti Palazzo Lredan, Venice. Courtesy of Michael Werner Gallery, New York, London, Berlin.

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What You Need to Know: With the support of Michael Werner Gallery, a dual-artist exhibition alights in Venice at the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, “Invisible Questions That Fill the Air: James Lee Byars and Seung-taek Lee.” On view through August 25, 2024, and curated by art historian Allegra Pesenti, the show traces the parallels and divergences of these two artists’ practices, and how their work engages with the historical, architectural context. Speaking of the exhibition, Pesenti said, “The otherworldly fabric of Venice and more specifically the historical backdrop of the Palazzo Loredan become a unique stage for both artists. The combination of gold, stone, wood, and rope in their respective works reflects the traditional materials of Venice’s built environment. And poetry and philosophy, which are so central to the art of both Byars and Lee, find common ground in the ornate libraries of Palazzo Loredan in Campo Santo Stefano.”

About the Artists: Both James Lee Byars and Seung-taek Lee were born in 1932—but worlds apart. Byars is originally from Detroit, Michigan, a city that at the time was experiencing the throws of the Great Depression and undergoing the strains of industrialism. Lee hails from Kowon, a small village under Japanese rule in what is now North Korea. Though these two artists never crossed paths, their upbringings and societal and cultural milieus were starkly different, and Byars passed in 1997, their artistic trajectories and lines of inquiry nevertheless show intriguing similarities. Each broadly associated with Minimalism, Surrealism, Conceptualism, and Dadaism, neither formally worked within these movements, but still each found inspiration in history, poetry, and materiality.

Why We Like It: Set within the architecturally significant Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, the artistic imperatives that both Byars and Lee pursued are brought to the fore, and are seamlessly interwoven in the present exhibition with their surroundings, creating an immersive experience. Each artist’s deft choice of materials speaks to their shared ability to home in on the poetic, conceptual nature of their practices, and shown together highlights a synergy between the two even though they never met—their practices moving beyond cultural and physical boundaries. A series of golden sculptures on pedestals or hanging works dialogue with the historic venue, managing to at once be apropos to the historic venue and decidedly contemporary. While the exhibition offers the ability to not only explore the work of Byars and Lee, but it also further presents a chance to consider art’s ability to transcend traditional limitations.

See inside the exhibition below

Exhibition in venice in a historic palazzo, a historic wood and book lined library with a hanging sculpture.

Installation view of “Invisible Questions That Fill the Air: James Lee Byars and Seung-Taek Lee” (2024) at the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettre ed Arti Palazzo Lredan, Venice. Courtesy of Michael Werner Gallery, New York, London, Berlin.

An exhibition in venice inside a historic palazzo, a collonade that has a giant crystal chandelier and a sculpture of a gold chaise lounge and in the background pedestals with golden sculptures of various body parts.

Installation view of “Invisible Questions That Fill the Air: James Lee Byars and Seung-Taek Lee” (2024) at the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettre ed Arti Palazzo Lredan, Venice. Courtesy of Michael Werner Gallery, New York, London, Berlin.

Installation view of “Invisible Questions That Fill the Air: James Lee Byars and Seung-Taek Lee” (2024) at the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettre ed Arti Palazzo Lredan, Venice. Courtesy of Michael Werner Gallery, New York, London, Berlin.

Installation view of “Invisible Questions That Fill the Air: James Lee Byars and Seung-Taek Lee” (2024) at the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettre ed Arti Palazzo Lredan, Venice. Courtesy of Michael Werner Gallery, New York, London, Berlin.

Installation view of “Invisible Questions That Fill the Air: James Lee Byars and Seung-Taek Lee” (2024) at the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettre ed Arti Palazzo Lredan, Venice. Courtesy of Michael Werner Gallery, New York, London, Berlin.

Invisible Questions That Fill the Air: James Lee Byars and Seung-Taek Lee” is on view through August 25, 2024, at the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti Palazzo Loredan, Campo Santo Stefano, Venice.


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