On Kawara has spent four decades documenting time. Since 1965 he has been working on his magnum opus, the Today Series. Wherever he is in the world, each day the artist paints the date. This practice is governed by a rubric of limitations: the paintings must be monochromatic (with white text) and the day's date must be their only image - executed according to the conventions of the country in which he is situated. The work must be completed by midnight of the date that appears on it, and must be stored in a box lined with a newspaper from the city in which the work is painted, and from the same day. In the current example, the New York Times comments on then Mayor Koch's public service policy. Also, for each painting the artist mixes the colours a fresh, so the timbre of each is unique.
At a first glance, On Kawara appears to be offering no opinion about time. His project suggests an analytic rigour. Any trace of the personal or biographical is eradicated. The surfaces of the paintings are smooth and anonymous. Like the hands of a clock, he reports the time. But underlying this inscrutable objectivity is an existential angst. It is as though the artist is searching for proof, a corpus of evidence to affirm his existence.
At the same time, recording the date is an act of communication. Kawara invites the viewer to reflect on their own lives at the time of painting's execution. He provides us with a series of coordinates - a time line - with which to meditate on the trajectory of our existence.