Golden age

As James Lee Byars’ momumental The Golden Tower arrives in Venice, we shed light on the fascinating history behind the work

The performance and installation artist James Lee Byars (1932–1997) envisioned The Golden Tower as a colossal beacon that would bridge heaven and earth. The idea for this work first began in 1974 and was developed with numerous conceptual studies throughout the his career, including a 66ft iteration presented at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin in 1990. However, its installation at the Venice Biennale this May is first to fully realise the American artist’s intentions of presenting the sculpture in a public space.

In this film, curator Alberto Savadori and Michael Werner Gallery partner Gordon VeneKlasen shed light on the fascinating history of the work, the production process and final installation in Venice. The monumental installation was brought to life by with the help of Bergamo-based Manetti Gilders, a family business that has been around since 1600; here, we see first-hand the intricate and detailed process of producing and preparing the gold leaf. Towering over Campo San Vio at over 20m high, the colossal work marks a spiritual homecoming of sorts for Byars, who lived in Venice on and off, and enacted several performances there.

The Golden Tower is on view until 27 November at Campo San Vio, Venice. For more information, visit the Michael Werner Gallery website