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Riddle #9: The Holy Ghost
October 8 – November 8, 2022

What is the substance of a ghost? If immaterial, then what are we to make of the holy ghost? Is it a misty trace of a formerly embodied self through which one is reminded, sometimes with great clarity, of a stubbornly present past?

In 1975, or 1979 the online record is unclear, the peripatetic artist James Lee Byars — always disappearing — unfurled an enormous white cloth in St. Mark's Square during the Venice Biennale. He called the action "The Holy Ghost." Yet unlike many of his other communal fabric performances, there was nothing holy about it. Grabbing it at its edges, participants held the cross-like sheet horizontally above their heads. Had it been like his "Airplane for 100 Hundred" there would have been circles cut through which the passengers would place their heads. This fabric had no such perferations.

This little building in the U.S. Capitol just blocks from the U.S. Capitol is today but an old green shroud draped over a now long-gone bar. Behind the white wall, set back 21 inches from the windows, pills and ointments in a CVS pharmacy occupy the space where gay men and women used to shoot pool, and where a former police-officer named James John Elliott was knifed to death as he was closing up his bar on April 14, 1992.

James Lee Byars met with a different James Elliott six years earlier in Berkeley, California. He wanted to do a performance titled "The Perfect Death of James Elliott" at the Berkeley Art Museum, where Elliott was director. "[He] asked me to describe the time within the 24 hours cycle of day and night I would prefer to die, and how I would like to be lain out," Elliott later wrote. "We discussed elements of such choice down to the lining of the casket."

The poster in the doorway was designed by Triple Candie for "I Cancel My Works at Death: James Lee Byars," at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit in 2014.


  1. Shows: 2021+
  2. Shows: 2011–20
  3. Shows: 2009–10


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