I Cancel All My Works at Death

I Cancel All My Works at Death

Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

Detail of I Cancel All My Works at Death. Courtesy of MOCAD and Triple Candie.

February 3, 2014

James Lee Byars: I Cancel All My Works at Death
February 7–May 4, 2014

Opening: February 7, 7pm

Museum Of Contemporary Art Detroit 
4454 Woodward Avenue
Detroit MI, 48201 

T +1 313 832 6622 


Written and directed by Triple Candie with dramaturgy by Jens Hoffmann

I Cancel All My Works at Death is the first comprehensive survey of the actions and performances of James Lee Byars (Detroit 1932–Cairo 1997) to be presented in the United States. Titled after Byars’ now-famous speech act, it adopts the premise that the artist and his work are better misremembered than re-experienced.

I Cancel All My Works at Death takes a theatrical approach to an unconventionally theatrical artist, who referred to his actions and performances as “plays.” The large first gallery mimics the interior of a long-abandoned playhouse, with a patched theater curtain at its back, a single gold chair on a circular red carpet littered with glitter-speckled ceiling debris, and crumbling walls adorned with faux-Byars theater posters. Subsequent galleries exhibit newly created costumes and accessories, star-studded scripts, an assortment of props (none of which were actually used by the artist), casting photos, and static as well as animated photo-documentation, all of which has been altered. During the run of the show, new solo actions and group actions inspired by, but departing from, Byars’ work will be carried out, sparingly and intermittently, by the exhibition’s organizers. 

The exhibition is written and directed by Triple Candie, a phantom-like institution that existed in Harlem as an alternative space from 2001 to 2010. Run by two art historians who now live in Philadelphia, Triple Candie produces exhibitions about art but devoid of it and realized without the involvement of artists. MOCAD’s guest curator Jens Hoffmann invited Triple Candie to conceive this show; Triple Candie, in turn, invited Hoffmann to serve as the exhibition’s dramaturge. 

A Detroit native, James Lee Byars was a mysterious and enigmatic figure at the forefront of performance and conceptual art between 1960 until his death. After a decade in Japan (1958–67), he spent the majority of his career in Europe, traveling frequently back to Los Angeles and New York. His best-known works were realized at Documenta 5 in 1972 at the invitation of Harald Szeemann: On the opening days of the festival, he stood on the roof of the Fredericianum Museum under a mass of red tulle and shouted common German names through a megaphone to the visitors in the plaza below. 

Exhibition programming support is generously provided by the Taubman Foundation and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Arts. Additional funding for programming and educational initiatives is provided by the Edith S. Briskin/Shirley K. Schlafer Foundation. Additional support is provided by The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and Renaissance Media.

Also on view:
State of Exception
February 7–May 4

The exhibition State of Exception, originally installed at the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities Gallery in 2013, represents the collaboration between Richard Barnes, Amanda Krugliak, and University of Michigan anthropologist Jason De León. The exhibition presents backpacks, water bottles, border restraints and other objects left behind by undocumented migrants on their journey into the United States, and audio interviews from migrants relaying their own perspectives and experiences, and their relationships to these objects. State of Exception conveys the complexity and ambiguity of these found objects, and what they may or may not have revealed in terms of transition, humanity, commerce, culture, violence, and accountability. 

This exhibition is made possible by the support of The University of Michigan’s Institute for the Humanities and MOCAD.

DEPE Space: Sameer Reddy
February 7–May 4

New York-based artist Sameer Reddy’s practice aims to catalyze spiritual catharsis through aesthetic encounter, drawing on his parallel professional practice as a healer. For his installation at MOCAD, Reddy incarnates a sacred space within the secular walls of the museum, problematizing the physical and conceptual demarcation between holy and profane. Museum visitors are invited to cross the threshold of the portable temple, initiating a transformative experience. The space is installed with Reddy’s sculptural and photographic works, which double as sacred relics and icons; each piece has been blessed and channelled with energy, and designed to exert a metaphysical effect on the audience. Reddy’s project shares some similar concerns with MOCAD’s concurrent James Lee Byars exhibition, echoing Byars’s interest in ritual, hermeticism, intimacy, and an investment in sculpture as an essential component of his performative work. Born and raised in the Metro Detroit area, Reddy currently resides in Brooklyn. 

Vdrome is an online platform organized by Edoardo Bonaspetti, Jens Hoffmann, Andrea Lissoni, and Filipa Ramos, exhibiting an ongoing schedule of rotating film and video screenings directed by visual artists and filmmakers whose production lies in-between contemporary art and cinema. 

MOCAD will be the first institution to bring the Vdrome film program to its visitors by screening the films on a live feed directly from the Vdrome website, reconsidering the way artists’ films are distributed.

Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead
Mobile Homestead is a permanent art work by late artist Mike Kelley located on the grounds of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. It’s both a public sculpture and a private, personal architecture—based on the artist’s childhood home on Palmer Road in Westland, Michigan. 

For more information about MOCAD and its upcoming programs, please visit www.mocadetroit.org.

The mission of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit is to present art at the forefront of contemporary culture. As a non-collecting institution, MOCAD is responsive to the cultural content of our time, fueling crucial dialogue, collaboration, and public engagement.


I Cancel All My Works at Death at MOCAD
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Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit
February 3, 2014

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