James Lee Byars' Plural Dress

James Lee Byars' Plural Dress

It goes without saying that many artists active in the 1960s were a bit, shall we say, out there in comparison to their forebearers. From Claes Oldenburg's anthropomorphized objects to Yoko Ono's Cut Piece performance, cultural shifts and rifts were influencing a great deal of work being produced and exhibited. The craft field was no exception, with the Museum of Contemporary Crafts (MCC) holding exhibitions in the 1960s and early '70s featuring work like Pedro Friedeberg's Painted Hand Chair and Clayton Bailey's Belching Bowls. However, one of the most theatrical artists to make his presence known at the MCC during this time was James Lee Byars (1932-1997).

Often referring to himself as the "World's Most Famous Unknown Artist," Byars created perplexing performances and installations across Europe and around New York City. According to the New York Times, "a characteristic event [by Byars] was 'Dress for 500,' performed on December 12, 1968, when 500 people wore a continuous piece of hot-pink silk as they walked around the block near the Architectural League building on East 65th Street in Manhattan." He fashioned many garments throughout the 1960s featuring neck holes meant to accommodate a multitude of people. One such get-up, Plural Dress, made its way into the MCC exhibition, "Body Covering" held from April 6 through June 9, 1968.

Byars' preferred materials were paper and silk. One of his earliest activities with the MCC was a temporal paper "performance sculpture" assembled for "Made with Paper" in 1967 and carried out on West 53rd Street in Manhattan. While many works, especially his performances, were ephemeral or transcendental in nature, records of Byars' accomplishments, his paper objects and silk garments can be found in archive and museum collections in the United States, as well as Europe, where the artist had a particularly lauded reputation.

Throwback Thursday is a weekly series highlighting visuals from the American Craft Council Library's Digital Collections Database. Check back on Thursdays for more.