Nov 8, 1989 is a large-scale example of On Kawara's celebrated Day Paintings. Since 1965, Kawara has on occasion taken the newspaper of wherever he found himself on a certain day in this case the New York Times of his adopted home and has painted its date on canvas. This painting process is freehand, involving no stencils but instead relying on a ruler and set square at most. It is time-consuming and laborious, a meditation, a trial of skill and patience. In the Day Paintings, Kawara limits himself to the hours of the day to complete the work - if it is not completed by midnight he discards it, as it would no longer be a Day Painting. The fact that the painting process takes so much time and effort means that Kawara's exertions on that day were almost entirely focussed on creating the Day Painting. For that day, Nov 8, 1989 was the focus of his day, it was the centre of it and defined it. It is a time capsule that both marks and to some extent contains the artist's life on that day. Like his daily telegrams to friends stating that, 'I am still alive', Nov 8, 1989 is an existential statement, a proof of life.
These Day Paintings are hermetically sealed, revealing little about themselves or the artist except that, that day, he lived and he painted. There is a Minimalistic succinctness to their content, a watertight quality reminiscent of Joseph Kosuth's neons. Unlike Kosuth's works, Nov 8, 1989 refers to a world beyond the artwork: it refers to the artist. And yet it completely avoids opening itself to the fallibility of interpretation or emotion. The only artistic subjectivity involved in this work is the involvement and existence of Kawara in that place, on that day. Beyond this, there is an inscrutable objectivity. The work gives us and contains only a defined and limited amount of information, almost scientifically precise. Nothing beyond the artist's activity is revealed. Yet although we know nothing of his thoughts, this work poignantly and poetically captures a resonant sense of existential angst. Nov 8, 1989 shows Kawara clutching desperately at his existence and harnessing any possible evidence of it.