On Kawara (b. 1933)
28 DEC. 1981
signed ‘On Kawara’ (on the reverse)
Liquitex on canvas and handmade cardboard box with newspaper clipping from the Asahi Shimbun
8 1/8 x 10in. (20.5 x 25.5cm)
Executed in 1981
Galerie Yvon Lambert, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1988.
Paris, Galerie Yvon Lambert, Date Paintings 1966-1987, 1988.

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Rachel Boddington
Rachel Boddington

Lot Essay

‘Kawara is a master of calligraphy, a man of belief and, of course, one of the great artists of our time’ (C. Scheidemann, quoted in J. Watkins, R. Denizot et al, On Kawara, London 2002, p. 30).

With its temporal delineation meticulously inscribed upon a black canvas, 28 DEC. 1981, 1981 stems from On Kawara’s celebrated series of Date Paintings. Since its inception in 1965, this deeply existential sequence of works has come to represent the single most important strand of Kawara’s conceptual practice. Governed by the impeachable passage of time, these works are defined by the day upon which they were created. 28 DEC. 1981 documents not only the date of its making but also, in an accompanying hand-crafted box includes a cutting from The Asahi Newspaper which documents the events of the Cold War during that time. Aspiring to the condition of a time capsule, the Date Paintings are simultaneously personal and universal in their narratives, capturing a lived moment within the ever-expanding, ever-unravelling tapestry of human existence. For Kawara, the Date Paintings represent a form of meditation. His desire to situate his art in the ‘here and now’, conceiving his paintings one day at a time, stems from the intense feelings of alienation and loss he experienced as an adolescent. Kawara remembers that at this time he “started to doubt everything” to the extent that he isolated himself within his immediate family’ (J. Watkins, ‘Where “I Don’t Know” Is the Right Answer’, in J. Watkins, R. Denizot et al, On Kawara, London 2002, p. 48). As time progressed, Kawara began to come to terms with this unstable new reality, and started to channel his doubt into painting, systematically recording his existence with as much all-encompassing neutrality as possible. The Date Paintings are concrete repositories of an otherwise intangible, inconceivable and ephemeral substance: time, the single unifying constant within a painfully fractured world.

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