On Kawara (1933 -2014)
On Kawara (1933 -2014)

July 9, 1973

On Kawara (1933 -2014)
July 9, 1973
signed 'On Kawara' (on the reverse)
Liquitex on canvas and handmade cardboard box with newspaper clipping from The Chronicle Herald
10¼ x 13 1/8in. (26 x 33.3cm.)
Executed in 1973
Konrad Fischer Galerie, Dusseldorf.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in early 1975.
C. Höfer, On Kawara Date Paintings in Private Collections, Cologne 2009, p. 232 (illustrated in colour, p. 233).
Bern, Kunsthalle Bern, On Kawara, 1973 – Production eines Jahres/One Year’s Production, 1974 (installation view illustrated, unpaged). This exhibition later travelled to Brussels, Palais des Beaux Arts.
Dusseldorf, Konrad Fischer Galerie, On Kawara, 1975, no. 48B (7).
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, American Art in Belgium, 1977.
Deurle, Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Verzameling Roger En Hilda Matthys-Colle, 2007, p. 140 (illustrated in colour, p. 71).

Brought to you by

Cristian Albu
Cristian Albu

Lot Essay

For nearly half a century, On Kawara created paintings, drawings, books, and recordings that examined chronological time and its function as a measure of human existence. The artist began making his now signature date paintings in 1966 in New York City, and continued to make them in different parts of the world until his death in 2014. Following the same basic procedure and format, each of these works were carefully executed by hand with the date documented in the language and grammatical conventions of the country in which it was made (Esperanto was used when the first language of a given country did not use the Roman alphabet). The artist devised a sans serif typeface which he used to meticulously paint the letters and numbers in white on a monochrome surface. With the dates of their creation as their primary subject, Kawara’s Date Paintings are defined by their temporal parameters; indeed, it is their sole content and the governing principle of their execution. Insisting on the profound truth of the calendar, each adheres to the self-imposed restriction that it be made on the actual date delineated: if a painting is not finished by midnight, it is summarily destroyed.

With an existentialist bent of mind, Kawara honed in on the present as the only knowable reality in a world filled with doubt. Each actual painting was a form of meditation for him, taking hours to complete with the utmost care and finest craftsmanship. Four coats of paint were carefully applied for the ground and each allowed enough time to dry before being rubbed down in preparation for subsequent coats. Colour was intensified to the utmost in this manner, with the application of paint with a coarse brush followed by the nuance of very fine brush. On this surface, the outlines of the text were carefully drawn and filled in with several coats of white paint with the use of tapered brushes, a ruler and set square and an X-Acto blade. Finally, imperfections were eliminated through minute adjustments to the outlines and fine-tuning of the overall composition.

Kawara’s intense focus on the ‘here and now’ stemmed from feelings of profound alienation and loss that he experienced as an adolescent on the cusp of adulthood. Thirteen years old during the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the young artist reacted painfully to the cataclysmic events of WWII. Raised in an intellectual environment of Shinto, Buddhist and Christian teachings, he found it impossible to find refuge in religion or in the rationalism attributed to human progress; he later described this period as an ‘awakening of his consciousness.’ Life dawned to him as a ubiquity of accidents and value judgments rather than as a linear evolution of events set against absolute truths. Reality was simultaneous and subjective, and therefore infinite and without the remotest possibility of holistic comprehension.

It was this very realisation that led Kawara to cherish his part in this reality, recording his existence with as much all-encompassing neutrality as possible. Detaching each of his Date Paintings from the multitude of events (in his own life and the rest of the world) that took place on the particular date that he chooses to commemorate, he reduces time – twenty-four precious hours – to an impartial system. Captured in expressionless font and centred across a rectangular format, Kawara’s Date Paintings normalise time; the only variable that Kawara allows into this system is the language of the text, which is based on the country of each painting’s conception. On acrylic-coated canvases that project two inches off the wall, the Date Paintings are objects that insistently occupy space, and are somewhat akin to repositories of an otherwise intangible, inconceivable and ephemeral substance: time.

Kawara alludes to the multifarious nature and complexity of what he records – the external reality of each day – by storing his paintings in self-made cardboard boxes lined with cuttings culled from local newspapers from the same date and locale of their execution. These cuttings are necessarily fragmented not only in the literal sense of being cut from a larger whole, but also in their geographic specificity, the events that they describe and the opinion from which they describe them. They convey some context to the paintings but can never encompass the entirety of what the paintings seek to accomplish. After all, the Date Paintings are not specific histories but universal ones that essentially aspire to be time capsules.

Understanding the limitations of ‘direct actuality,’ Kawara never imposes his opinion about the time that he chooses to commemorate. He stays out of the picture, refraining from any comment or interpretation. Unhindered by Kawara’s presence, the beholder is allowed to integrate their own experiences into the Date Paintings and invest them with his or her own memories, setting out on an imaginary mental journey in time to a moment that is forever lost. Kawara’s work pitches life’s brevity against the forward march of time but also illuminates its immeasurable and incomprehensible richness. He invites his viewer to join him on a meditation on life, based on a date far in the past, which is nothing short of profound.

More from Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Auction

View All
View All