James Lee Byars. The Table of Perfect. 1989

James Lee Byars The Table of Perfect 1989

  • Not on view

Taller than a utilitarian table, this gold cube with rounded corners suggests a sacred site for contemplation or an altar involved in some ancient ritual. Born in Detroit, James Lee Byars lived for many years in Japan, Venice, and the United States before his death in Egypt, in 1997. Devoted to the confluence of East and West and their shared symbolism, his work is often based on simple forms—circles, spheres, cylinders, and pyramids.

Gallery label from 2006.
Additional text

Byars, a performance artist, poet, and sculptor, lived in the United States, Asia, and Europe and traveled extensively. His art is a synthesis of artistic styles and philosophies from throughout history and around the world. The Table of Perfect is a three-thousand-pound solid white-marble cube covered with gold leaf. In its singularity and geometry it recalls Minimalist art of the 1960s, but its materials, traditionally associated with Classical sculpture and religious icons, link the work to ancient Greek, Buddhist, and Byzantine art. This sculpture is meant to be shown in the center of an empty room; with its precious materials and monolithic quality, it suggests a shrine or altar in a sacred space.

Byars considered himself a mystic, investigating ideas of eternity and transcendence through simple acts and forms. His work is interrogative, questioning aesthetic values, linguistic meanings, and the idea of absolute truth, especially regarding the idea of perfection. While The Table of Perfect looks pristine, it—like any other object—can only ever exist as a sign of perfection and can never embody the total concept. In this sense, the work raises questions about the definition of perfection and whether it is, in fact, an attainable goal.

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 116.
Medium
Gold leaf on white marble
Dimensions
39 1/4 x 39 1/4 x 39 1/4" (99.7 x 99.7 x 99.7 cm)
Credit
Committee on Painting and Sculpture Funds
Object number
329.1998
Copyright
© 2022 James Lee Byars
Department
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

We have identified these works in the following photos from our exhibition history.

How we identified these works

In 2018–19, MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos. That project has concluded, and works are now being identified by MoMA staff.

If you notice an error, please contact us at [email protected].

Licensing

If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

MoMA licenses archival audio and select out of copyright film clips from our film collection. At this time, MoMA produced video cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. All requests to license archival audio or out of copyright film clips should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For access to motion picture film stills for research purposes, please contact the Film Study Center at [email protected]. For more information about film loans and our Circulating Film and Video Library, please visit https://www.moma.org/research-and-learning/circulating-film.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].

Feedback

This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].