At the Guggenheim, a March Through On Kawara’s Take on Time
Neither Appearance Nor Illusion: Property from the Collection of Santiago Barberi Gonzalez
Executed in 2004.
From the Catalogue
Stemming from profound feelings of loss and alienation experienced as a child during the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, On Kawara commits his artistic oeuvre to the passage of time in his seminal Today series. The Today series, in which Kawara paints the date of the painting’s execution on the canvas, invites the viewer to explore and question one’s own understanding of time. This body of work, therefore, functions as an empirical record of the collective human experience. Informed by an existentialist bent of mind, Kawara's Date Paintings illustrate the present as the only knowable reality in a world characterized by doubt. Rendered in sans serif font and centered on a stark, rectangular surface, Kawara's Date Paintings package and reduce time so that the only variable in a regimented creation process is the language of the text, which is chosen based on the convention of the place where the painting was made.
Kawara’s precise and disciplined process involves a series of steps that take place over the course of hours and bring to fruition an immaculate final product, as in the current example. He did not create a painting every day, but some days he would make two or even three. If a painting was not finished by midnight, he would destroy it. The immaculate surface of the present work is the result of a precise and time-consuming process by which Kawara meticulously builds up and then reduces layers of acrylic paint to produce a flawless surface. First, he carefully applies four coats of paint to the surface of the canvas, each given time to dry before slowly being rubbed down in preparation for the subsequent layer. On the surface, outlines of text are carefully stenciled and filled in with several coats of white paint, and through the use of tapered brushes, a set-square and an X-Acto blade, the text is rendered in a quasi-mechanical style. This exacting method of execution makes the creation of each painting an exercise in meditation. Focusing on not just the ‘now’ but also the ‘here’, Kawara further anchors the human experience of time into reality through the inclusion of newspaper clippings from the day and city in which the work was created.
Underneath the uniform and seemingly impassive surface lies an existential angst upon which the viewer can meditate. The formal simplicity of Kawara's aesthetic combined with the complexity of his execution produces a multifaceted work, rich in resonance and meaning. As Kawara limits his presence to a great extent, the viewer is encouraged to imbue the work with their own memories and personal experiences associated with the date rendered on the canvas. This collision of the artist’s personal experience and that of the viewer renders the present work as a physical totem of the collective human experience.
—Courtesy of Sotheby's
Signature: partially titled and dated; signed on the reverse of the canvas
Yvon Lambert Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the previous owner in November 2007
On Kawara has based the entirety of his collection of books, paintings, and drawings on the arbitrariness and subjectivity of the way we measure time. Many of his projects are ongoing, making Kawara himself, as the recorder of time, one of the primary materials in his conceptual works. Kawara is perhaps best known for the “date paintings” in his Today series (1966-), each of which conforms to one of eight predetermined sizes and features a date in hand-lettered typography painted over a monochromatic background. The artist completed the canvases while living or staying in over 100 cities around the world. Each date painting is displayed with a handcrafted cardboard box and a clipping from a newspaper published in the same city and on the same day that the artist made the work. Kawara continues to create new works in the series.
Japanese, 1933-2014, Kariya, Japan