1976




INTRO

1976 was the year of Berlin. Let's be clear about that. On Kawara was invited to the city as part of the DAAD (which translates as German Academic Exchange Service) scheme run by René Block, a gallerist who had been influential in West Berlin since 1964, and who had worked repeatedly with Joseph Beuys. Two of the other DAAD artists in 1976/77 were Braco Dimitrijevic and Dan Graham, whom we'll be catching up with in this chapter.

Why had the New Yorker called On Kawara gone to Berlin for a year? Presumably because he'd enjoyed his two-month residency in Stockholm three years earlier. Presumably because Kasper
König thought the experience would help On further internationalise his art career. Presumably because On and Hiroko were up for a European adventure now that they'd road-tripped America for all it was worth.

If there are any literary readers out there, engaging with this work, I should say this… The first five years/chapters of it are to do with an artist having brilliantly original ideas and exploiting them intellectually, to the absolute max. Then five years of coolly taking those ideas to the market and to an audience. Now there comes a pivotal year. Away from home and out of the artist's comfort zone, where anything can happen. Lull before the storm? Anything but a lull before an absolute tornado! The tornado will come in the form of the final three years where On and Hiroko will move into their own New York loft, start a family and engage in a most compelling way with the
Königs.

Whoa there! We're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's bring this text back to the facts…


ONE

On Kawara spent the beginning of the year in New York. He was there until February 26, but only made one Date Painting in each of January and February. I would suggest that he spent much of these two months getting some kind of handle on the German language. Not so much because he would be expected to speak German in Berlin - the most international of Western cities, where English was much used - but because he would be reading Berlin newspapers in connection with 'I READ'. Before he went to Stockholm in December of 1972, his Date Painting reduced to one or two per month as well, and I suspect this was because he was speed-learning, binge-reading Swedish.

He was living at 24 East 22nd Street (Narahara's former flat) and then 423 East Broadway (from February 3), and he was sending postcards to Sylvio Perlstein in Antwerp until February 15, per the 2008 publication of the 'complete' 'I GOT UP/I WENT/I MET' made by Michele Didier, which these reproductions are taken from via Tama Art University's website:

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

On didn't go much to Greene Street from either 24 East 22 Street or 423 Broadway, but did meet Angela Westwater a couple of times prior to the solo show that would be opening at 142 Greene Street at the beginning of March.

On seven occasions in January, On Kawara never left the house all day. Giving himself an intensive German language course? Nevertheless, on these days spent at home he was not alone. As well as Hiroko, the three Sueyoshis tended to be around (as I say elsewhere, they seemed to have been living with On and Hiroko at 24 East 22nd Street), while Nobu Fukui, Aoki and Soroku Toyoshima were regular visitors to both early 1976 addresses. Kasper Konig was met a few times and so was Anna Astner. I only mention her because she would be the very last person to get an 'I GOT UP' postcard in 1979, so I will log her appearances in an attempt to work out how she fitted into On Kawara's life. I asked Nobu about Anna Astner but he didn't recognise the name.

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Hiroko would know who Anna Astner was. So would Kasper Konig. And I expect Aoki would know too. But I can't ask them. Well, I could ask them but I don't think I would get an answer.

A note about 423 Broadway. As I say, On and Hiroko gave up living at the Naraharas former address of 24 East 22 Street at the beginning of February, the first 'I GOT UP' card from 423 East Broadway being dated February 3. But there is an obscure Narahara connection with this new address also. In 1990, Narahara published a book of photos that recorded the crossroads involving Broadway as it made its way from Lower Manhattan northwards. The photos had been taken from December 1973 to April 1974, when he was living at 24 East 22nd Street prior to On and Hiroko's occupancy. The photo he took at the junction of Canal Street and Broadway shows number 423. The second photo is a detail of the first, focussing in on the appropriate part of the composition.

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, the estate of Ikko Narahara.

I've compared this above address with how it looks on Google Street View 'today'. First, from the same perspective as the detail from Narahara's 1974 photo…

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then from straight in front of 423 Broadway…

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I wonder if On and Hiroko were living on the first or the second floor. Anyway, they would have been thinking about the year-long Berlin adventure that was ahead of them. With On adding to his German vocabulary - and his understanding of German grammar - on a daily basis. He had mastered Mexican-Spanish, French, American-English, Swedish and what's more he had the Konig family to keep him right. What could possibly have stopped him?


TWO

Upon arrival in Berlin, the 'I GOT UP' cards show that On and Hiroko changed their address after a few days. The address used for the first five postcards was Kulmbacherstrasse 15. This is registered on the 'I WENT' for March 1, 1976, which was published in On Kawara 1976 Berlin 1986, the temporary address being towards the bottom right of the red biro route. I should say also that the furthest north part of the route is where Berlin Art College was to be found:

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

By March 3, On and Hiroko had moved further west, to the point close to the left side of the above map that he had visited on March 1, at Damaschkestrasse 21. In other words, the dot representing the place where On slept in the map below, which is 'I WENT' for March 11, 1976, is that same place. This map wasn't published until 2008, when On included it in the catalogue for the Dallas show, 10 Tableaux and 16,952 Pages.

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

The Kawaras had moved west, but were still in the south west quadrant of Berlin. Still in that island of West Berlin separated by a wall from the surrounding sea of post-WW2 Soviet Union. I've used Google to look more closely at Damaschkestrasse 21, since On Kawara stayed there until February 1977, apart from a two-month return to New York. In other words a lot of 'I GOT UP' cards were sent from this address and a similar number of 'I WENT' maps include a red circle at this point.

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Below is a photo taken from the inside front cover of
On Kawara 1976 Berlin 1986. The book does not make it clear what the photo pertains to. I assume the photo was taken from the Kawaras' Damaschkestrasse accommodation in Berlin, looking into the courtyard.

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Hiroko Hiraoka. Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

The aforementioned book, intended to cover the whole time that On Kawara was in Berlin, only includes three 'I WENT' maps (March 11, Aug. 13 and Nov. 2). It also includes just three 'I MET' lists, and only one from the initial February 27 to April 21 stay. So you will understand that the publication initiative of Tama Art University transforms our understanding of On's time in Berlin. This essay will bear little resemblance to its first draft in 2021, when I let my imagination take me to places that On Kawara simply didn't go and to meetings which never took place.

I'm not decrying that essay as a piece of work though. Samuel Beckett was in Berlin in 1976. So was David Bowie. The German government paid for many artists to be working in Berlin so that Berlin would be valued by Western culture as much as New York, London and Paris. And it worked in the sense that the West never lost touch with the city, and when the wall fell in 1989 Berlin - and soon the whole of Germany - became integrated into what we think of as the freedom-loving West. Freedom of speech. Freedom to create. Freedom to Date Paint.

Let's place a photo of a Date Painting at this point in the text. After all that's what gave purpose to On's residency:

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Apologies for the poor quality of the reproduction. Worth it, just about, for the German rendering of 'March', and for seeing how the artist has dealt with the umlaut over the 'A' in order to keep all punctuation 'between the lines'. Also, in German, as in Spanish, the day of the month comes before the month itself.

Here is what On added to his 'I READ' file for the day. Two pages. First, this:

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Two articles are outlined in red biro to suggest On has read them. Also, a piece runs horizontally across the top which a bit of red biro suggests has been read, but its folded in on itself so the content is not obvious, even to a German reader.

Below is the second page of 'I READ' for the day:

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Four articles have been outlined in red. Oh, yes, On Kawara could get by already in written German. Whether he could hold a conversation is another matter. But maybe Hiroko was helping in that regard.

On Kawara regularly met various Germans: Jurgen Trom, Barbara Richter and René Block (plus family) in the two-month period of his initial stay. Also significant was hooking up with Koichi Ono and his wife Yuri, both of whom were originally from Japan, and both of whom would remain close friends of On and Hiroko throughout their Berlin time. That is why, I suspect, two of the three 'I MET' lists published in
On Kawara 1976 Berlin 1986 begin with the names 'KOICHI ONO' and 'YURI ONO'.

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Their first meeting was on March 20, 1976, an evening spent together that went on until after midnight. In 2021, I reached out to Koichi Ono and received this reply in his third language:

Dear Duncan, Thank you for your E-mail from ……from where, in which city in which land are you living, would you let me know? I think you are good researcher. As you reason, I met On Kawara often in West Berlin, 1976. When I was a student at the art university in Tokyo, I saw photos of work by On Kawara in an art magazine. I found it fantastic and great, so I was interested in him, but I knew On was living in New York, so I thought I would not meet him in my life at all. But encounter in life is very strange. I lived in West Berlin 14 years long, from 1970 till 1984. 1976 I was in the master class at Art University in West Berlin. I was invited with my wife Yuri by an acquaintance for a party in his house. There I met On Kawara and Hiroko, and at the end of party On gave his phone number also his address to me and said: “would you like to visit us shortly?”. It was the beginning of forming our friendship. I and Yuri often visited On and Hiroko in their apartment. Several times, as you reason, we stayed for the night with them. We invited On and Hiroko to our apartment once in a while. This company continued till they went home to New York. Though it was only one year long, we had made a lot of memories, so it is impossible to write them now here at once. But I think I will not disappoint you, so I will try to find the time to write about my memory of that time. This is my first E-mail, it will not be last one. Best Wishes from Japan, Koichi Ono

How warm and generous is that. The first spell in Berlin was from February 27 to April 21. On and Hiroko seem to have met Koichi and Yuri Ono for four overnight stays, one of them being at their place. That was on 13/14 April. As you see from the 'I WENT', where the Onos lived was off the map.The red writing at the right edge of the map is 'Leinestrasse and Schillerpromenade'. A red arrow alongside his red route shows On going off the map on April 13. A red arrow shows On coming back onto the map and going home to base on April 14.

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

What surprises me is that the 'I GOT UP' for April 14, doesn't use the Ono address but On's own Berlin address. I thought the idea was that the sender's address on the postcard was the address that On Kawara got up, not where he wrote the postcard. Perhaps he allowed himself to use either the address where he got up or the address he found himself at later in the day when writing up the card. Does that make sense?… Actually, I think I see what's happened. On and Hiroko have returned to their home after midnight, therefore on April 14. So that is the correct address pertaining to when On 'got up' on the 14th. Crisis of faith over!

What can also be said at this stage is that the set of postcards that went first to Heimar Schroter in Frankfurt and Konrad Fischer in Dusseldorf show the same pattern. At first, cards centred around the partly destroyed church and along Kurfurstendamm; then the cards featured the park around Tiergarten and towards the Berlin Wall; then came a few diffuse and spread out ones involving the Olympic Stadium, Charlottenburg Palace and the airport. In other words, these initial sets of cards resembled the pattern already fully investigated in the essay,
I GOT UP 1976. Postcards going to Roger Mazarguil (reproduced on the page just linked) were approximately the same set as those that went to Konrad Fischer (reproduced in the 2008 volume and now made available online by Tama Art University), though on the days I've checked the postcard was not the very same one.

Also met on this first stay in Berlin was Dan Graham. Nine times in fact. So I'll place this paragraph from a second email from Koichi Ono at this point:

'I met Dan Graham in the apartment of On Kawara. On mentioned to me that he valued the intelligence of Dan Graham. One day Hiroko said smilingly to me, “Just listen Koichi, a few days ago Dan came and said earnestly "Hi Hiroko I found a really delicious food here in West Berlin”” and I say to him, What is it? He said delighted to me “”peanut butter it is!””. Hiroko said to herself “What sort of eating habits did he have in New York?” We found this gap between his intelligence and peanut butter so funny, also lovely.'

All the signs were that On Kawara (and Hiroko) had settled into Berlin. With an old, artist friend from New York and two new, Japanese-born friends to help them feel at home.

On Kawara only made two Date Paintings in Berlin in March (24 and 26) and three in April (5, 10 and 11). Then he and Hiroko returned to New York for two months, from April 22 to July 2. Originally I got these dates from the reproductions of postcards in On Kawara 1976 Berlin 1986. The repros are fairly small, 15 per A4 page, but there are 24 pages of them, making 360 in all. I say again, there is huge imbalance here:

I GOT UP 360
I MET 3
I WENT 3
I READ 3

As I've conjectured before, perhaps the 'I MET' and 'I WENT' gave away too much information about On's life in 1976. But the book was published ten years after, so I'm not sure that hypothesis bears up. Perhaps René Block wanted to communicate the relentlessness of the artist's work, and so felt that any one of the series should be reproduced in depth. And having, in 1986, embarked on the expensive process of calling back all the postcards for the sake of the exhibition, it may have seemed logical to share this information with the world, not realising that the 'I MET' and 'I WENT' information would not truly be made available to the public until 2023.

Anyway, the fullness of the 'I GOT UP' information has its advantages. Here is how the Berlin year began:

I GOT UP: postcards from Berlin:

POSTCARD ONE……….no…………………POSTCARD TWO………no.

27 Feb to March 18
Salvatore Ala…………….21…………………Heimar Schroter………….23

19 March to April 21
Konrad Fischer …………32…………………Roger Mazarguil 30


It's good that Konrad Fischer, Dusseldorf gallerist, and Roger Mararguil, Parisian restauranteur, are being kept in the loop. On Kawara is living in Berlin. He gets up between 9am and 10.20am (no late night
mah jong or chess), day after day.

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Not only does he get up. He moves around. And although I don't have the 'I WENT' maps to illustrate this, we have the postcards. I think we can assume that there is nothing below that On Kawara didn't witness with his own eyes in these first two months in Berlin. Ah, but I must bear in mind that a wall ran through Berlin. On Kawara, like the photographers who made the postcards, had to stick to one side of the wall.

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

I think we can enlarge one of those pictures. Because it highlights the complication. The historic centre of Berlin was, for the most part, in East Berlin when the wall went up. West Berlin was the south west quadrant of the city, without the middle. So although one might like to think the following picture showed East Germany on the right of the wall - an impenetrable forest of communism - that's not the case. East Berlin is on the left. Prestigious buildings, such as the Brandenburg Gate, and spaces in between where buildings had been destroyed during the war against the Allies.

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But how interesting for On Kawara, a man from Japan, to find himself at the centre of that other defeated nation, Germany. At least Tokyo wasn't divided in two, with a wall separating those being brought up subject to one regime and those being raised under another. Though try telling that to Yukio Mishima. Wasn't his mature work about Tokyo being a city divided between the spiritual values of the past, in baffling retreat, and the Western commercialisation that was gaining ground even before the disastrous war?

Let's blow up a couple of the postcards that are reproduced in the
On Kawara 1976 Berlin 1986 book. This first one was taken in West Berlin, looking straight onto the Brandenburg Gate with the Telephone Tower behind, confirming the orientation.

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I imagine that's On Kawara and Dan Graham on the right of the postcard. What are they saying? Dan is suggesting it would be easy to get to the other side of the wall. 1. Pick an important official in East Germany. 2. Write him a flattering letter about wanting to meet him to see how they do things in the East. 3. Get written permission to visit. 4. Drive straight through Checkpoint Charlie.

On: "Are we going to do that? I would like to see the Van Gogh at the
Alte Nationalgalerie."

Dan: "Sure, let's do it."

Later. On and Dan have got themselves to where they can better appraise what's actually going on. Instead of seeing themselves in the mirror of the Berlin Wall, they are seeing over the mirror into communist Berlin.


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Dan Graham loves it. What does Dan love? He loves the fact that in 1970, On sent him more than a hundred copies of the same postcard of the Statue of Liberty. Now, in Berlin, Dan challenges On to send him a single postcard of the Reichstag.

On: "There are no postcards of the Reichstag."

Dan: "Damn right. And why is that?"

On: "It's on the other side of the wall."

Dan: "No, it's actually on this side. But the wall is hard up against the back of the building and Germany's traditional parliament is closed, because Germany is being run by the commies in Moscow and a diminished Parliament in Bonn. The postcard makers
could use the closed building as the subject of a postcard, but who would want to send a postcard to their mom of the building that best symbolises Germany's defeat?"

On: "We are in a very sad city."

Dan: "And don't we just love it?"



THREE

Why did On and Hiroko go back to New York for a couple of months (April 21, 1976 to June 22, 1976)? Well, I think to try and make the loft they'd bought at 140 Greene Street inhabitable, or to get work started on it, because On Kawara visited Greene Street an awful lot during this period.

At first they were living at 423 Broadway again. Let's prove that be reproducing an 'I GOT UP' card. In fact, I can show both the cards sent out on April 28. The first being the one reproduced in the 2008 book published by Michelle Didier and reproduced by Tama Art University. The second being a card from a collection that was sold online. None of the cards to Yutaka Kuriyama were reproduced in the 2008 book. Perhaps that particular collection was not made available to On and Michele Didier.

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Yutaka Kuriyama (1946-2001) was a portrait painter but also collected information and ephemera on Andy Warhol. His death in 2001 may have meant the postcards becoming less readily available to On Kawara or his representative. Harald Szeeman (1933-2005) was a Swiss curator, artist and art historian. If his collection had become unavailable as well following his death, then Michelle Didier would have had to resort to publishing reconstructed postcards, which the 2008 book does do from time to time.

Then, from May 2 1976, On and Hiroko were staying at 41 West 24th Street. Which, to begin with, I thought was a return to 24 East 22nd Street. But not so, though the new address is geographically and structurally similar to the one they'd taken over from the Naraharas in 1974. Let me again reproduce both cards that were sent out on a single day, in this case May 18:

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

The cards are going to the same individuals as in April, but they are very different pictures of New York. On Kawara has finished going around the island of Manhattan and is now choosing images from the city streets themselves.

Then, from June 7, 1926, On and Hiroko were back at 423 Broadway. So let's complete a triptych of double postcards from this short New York phase of On Kawara's life.

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

It would seem that the cards going to Harald Szeeman are reaching their end. That was invariably the case when JFK Airport featured. Whereas it would seem that Yutaka Kuriyama would be getting more cards as the Columbus Circle card was approximately mid-set.

But from both these addresses (423 Broadway and 41 West 24th Street) On regularly travelled to Greene Street in April, May and June to see to the property that he and Hiroko had acquired. On one day, May 3, the 'I WENT' map shows that On went into three properties on Greene Street. Presumably 132 (to see Aoki and Teresa), 140 (where Nobu also had a loft) and to 142 (where On's New York gallery was located). See the three, short parallel red strokes in the lower centre of the following map.

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

It is not immediately obvious, but On began the above day (May 3, 1976) at 41 West 24th Street (Ikko Narahara's book
Broadway contains a composite photograph of the junction of Broadway and West 24th Street). Then On moved along Broadway (possibly on foot, as Narahara would have recommended, but just as likely by subway, as On was not a particularly keen walker) to the junction of Broadway and Canal Street at the bottom of the red route. At which point, On was very close to 423 Broadway, an address which it seems that On did enter on May 3, possibly to pick up some stuff from the home that he'd been living in for several weeks, before, I assume, moving on to Greene Street.

During this interim New York period, the name Celia de Torres crops up on 'I MET' sheets for the first time. She is the woman who would move into the top loft at 140 Greene Street, directly above On and Hiroko. On also met Aoki and Teresa a lot, and Nobu and Soroku a few times. He still wasn't Date Painting much, just ticking over at one per month. I would imagine he was still studying German.

And that would be the last of New York until the spring of 1977. One assumes On and Hiroko left workmen to carry out tasks in their loft at 140 Greene Street. With perhaps Nobu or Aoki or Soroku keeping an eye on things for them.

So with everything seemingly under control in Manhattan, let's get back to Europe.


FOUR

On and Hiroko returned to Berlin via a week in Venice and the same in Paris. Venice has long been a playground of the art world elite.
For that year's Venice Biennale Dan Graham would make the following piece:

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What Koichi Ono told me about Berlin makes me think that the above work may have been influenced by Dan Graham having been living in West Berlin for a few months. Imagine, if you will, in the right-hand room are the poor, bored, suppressed East Berliners. In the left-hand room, with the mirror, are the free West Berliners plus Samuel Beckett, On Kawara, Koichi Ono, Dan Graham, Braco Dimitrijevic, David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Joseph Beuys. The East Berliners can see what a great time the people of West Berlin are having with their clever and playful artists: all that mirroring. One of the East Berliners would like to ask why Joseph Beuys is wearing a fishing jacket, why David Bowie is wearing make-up and why On Kawara is sending out postcards every day. But she can’t ask her questions as the Berlin Wall, though see-through, is sound-insulated!

The Venice Biennalle opened towards the end of July, so the Kawaras wouldn't have seen it, though no doubt Dan had talked them through the work when they met him in Berlin in March and April. In June, Dan may have been installing, but that is never a good time to visit an artist.

On: "Shall we leave Dan alone to make his double room?"

Hiroko: "Oh, there is so
much to see without bothering our dear friend!"

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Imagine if such an exquisite object as that postcard had been delivered to an East European address. How the recipient's mind would have boggled. So many layers of classical beauty, universal truth, wisdom and humour on two sides of one card.

The 'I WENT' map for 25 June, 1976, is also a thing of beauty. It's been marked on quite a large scale map, which reminds me a little of the 'I WENT' created in Dakar in 1973. It's almost as if On Kawara has taken special care with it, knowing that he and his partner have just enjoyed exploring
the World Heritage site.

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

I have explored the route using Google and have moved with the couple from their glorious hotel, along the narrow roads that cross dramatic canals, as they went from one major Roman Catholic site to another. Three highlights of my Google tour are as follows. First, an interior of the Bel Sito hotel, where I can well imagine On and Hiroko planning their day's sight-seeing while sipping their morning refreshment. Second, strolling through St Mark's enormous Square a few hundred yards from the hotel. Third, glancing down a canal at the far end of the day's ramble. In Venice, space is a different experience. The lanes are so narrow and dark and then you suddenly find yourself in an open courtyard, bursting with light. Or looking down a canal, sparkling with water. No wonder the Catholic Church went crazy for property in a place where one is constantly edging between the elements of solid stone and glinting water.


I wonder why On didn't produce a Date Painting while in Venice. Perhaps he'd left his painting kit in his permanent home, New York, and in his year-long accommodation in Berlin, not expecting to be needing it in between those two homes of his. Venice wasn't part of a road-trip, after all. It was a one-off.

Next stop, Paris. Not for long. But long enough to meet Kasper Konig, Pontus Hulten, Angela Westwater and Carl Andre. The globetrotting art world elite, one might say. Postcards were again going to the mysterious Frank Donegan, the man who could never beat On at ping-pong.

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

For the first four days back in Berlin, On met no-one else except Hiroko. On August 5 he met Koichi and Yuri Ono, whom he then met regularly for the rest of the month. He made new Japanese friends as well, Toshi Ichiyanagi, the
avant garde composer, and his wife and their 16-year old son. That friendship blossomed further in August, when On met the threesome 12 times. Teresa O'Connor (Aoki's wife) was also in Berlin, and she stayed with On and Hiroko for a week. And guess what? In case Aoki was feeling lonely or neglected back in New York, On was sending him 'I GOT UP' cards during this time. Strangely enough it's the cards to Albin Uldry that are reproduced in Michelle Didier's book, but the cards to Aoki are surely of more significance. Aoki was one of On's best friends. He crops up on hundreds of 'I MET' lists. And he was now living on Greene Street, right next door to On's address to be!

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Teresa was met every day from August 19 to August 25, so the above card is from that key period. The cards sent to Aoki in total date from, I estimate, August 6 to September 16. Although Aoki is still alive and living at 132 Greene Street, these cards have recently come up for sale. I have been told by Maarten Simoens at Wangsim, who conducted the sale(s), that Anzai Gallery in Tokyo acquired the postcards from Aoki, the One Million Years Foundation being aware of and approving the transaction, and that the set of cards was shown at the Anzai gallery from January to March, 2023.

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Anzai Gallery.

In early September another of the artists who was on a DAAD scholarship, Braco Dimitrijevic, had an opening. Samuel Beckett, David Bowie and Iggy Pop were also in Berlin in 1976, but not on Daad scholarships. The people of East Germany could only shuffle around their part of Berlin, mumbling amongst themselves, envious of all the exciting music and art that was happening on the other side of the wall.

Actually, I will include something that Koichi Ono told me at this point, after I'd mentioned the names of Beckett and Beuys in an email to him:

'One day in the West Berlin time, I visited the meeting in which Beuys reported on his Blackboard Work, that the Berlin museum had newly purchased. Beuys spoke eagerly about his work, lastly he asked the audience for any questions. An old woman raised her hand and said to him “Would you let me know, why are you always carrying the rucksack on your back?” The atmosphere of the meeting became a bit embarrassed. But Beuys instantly said to her, “Thank you, I have been waiting for this question.” Beuys never looked down upon people. He treated all people without distinction of whether they had good knowledge of art or not. I think this is the reason why he was so loved by everyone.

'In those days the government of West Germany invited many artists from many different lands in the world on the DAAD scheme and his Berliner Artist Program, and other projects too. I met Samuel Beckett in the private meeting hosted by my friend in West Berlin. But I think the scheme was neither charitable work nor a project that arose only from a pure love of art. It was one of the political, also strategic, projects for keeping the existence of the city of West Berlin, defending it against the attack of being swallowed up by the communist lands. West Berlin was the show window of Western European civilization and culture. The more artists came to West Berlin, the more secure of its own existence West Berlin would be. This project cost a large sum of money, but the West German government had very good reasons for spending that money.'

Koichi's wise words together with Dan Graham's 1976 work devised in Berlin and shown in Venice inspired a fictional scene. Shall I write it down for you, dear reader?
The scene is set in On Kawara's studio in Berlin. It is a massive space divided into two rooms by a two-way mirror that Dan Graham has installed. There is a ping-pong table and several guests in one room. In the other, through one-way glass, the guests can see a tall, gaunt man standing awkwardly by himself, drinking beer. Elsewhere in the second room two charismatic young men are laughing together.

Dan: "Who are they?"

On: "Who?"

Dan (pointing at David Bowie and Iggy Pop): "Those young dudes."

On: "I don't know."

Dan (pointing elsewhere): "Who is that?"

On: "Samuel Beckett."

Dan: "You're kidding me."

On: "No. He has been in Berlin from August 29 and leaves for Paris tomorrow. Look, he wrote this on the same piece of paper that he spelled his name, It reminds me of the book Kasper edited on me called
On Kawara: continuity/discontinuity, I think it's the start of a poem."

Dan: "Please read it aloud."

On: "
To and fro in shadow from inner to outer shadow
from impenetrable self to impenetrable unself
by way of neither
as between two lit refuges whose doors once…

Dan: "Oh my God. He's talking about my work. One of the greatest writers of the 20th Century has written a prose poem about Public Space/Two Audiences…He must have come to Berlin straight from Venice."

On: "Shall I introduce you?"

Dan: "Absolutely not. Have you seen the state of me? I'm covered in peanut butter. It's in my beard. It's in my hair…

On: "In your hair?"

Dan: "Of course, it's in my hair. It's all over my hands so how could it not be in my hair?… Look, this is what I want you to do."

On: "I'm listening."

Dan: "I want you to make out an extra postcard for today."

On: "My postcards for today have already been sent."

Dan: "Didn't you hear what I said? An
extra postcard. Use that one of the guy with the red shirt that makes him look like Joseph Kosuth, walking endlessly along the perimeter of the Wall like the Commie loser he is. Use that, or another postcard of the Wall - which one doesn't matter a toss - and make the message side out to Samuel Beckett in Paris. You've got Beckett's permanent address haven't you? If not, ask René."

On goes away for five minutes and comes back with a blank postcard and a calm smile in his eyes.

On: "Now all I need to do is stamp it with my getting up time."

Dan: "So do that."

On: "What time do you want me to say that I got up?"

Dan: "The time you frigging well got up."

On "It was pretty late."

Dan: "He won't mind… How late?"

On: "9.56 A.M."

Dan: "Jesus, On. No don't stamp that. He'll throw away the postcard. He must keep it, so that one day the Berlin Wall card is shown in the gallery I'm going to open in SoHo between Paula Cooper's and Angela Westwater's joints. The single card to Beckett will be juxtaposed with the 117 cards of the Statue of Liberty that you sent me in 1970. People will be blown away. The implication will be that I am 117 times as important to you as Beckett is, though I will be too modest to mention that in the press release."

On: "Sometime between 7 A.M. and 8 A.M.?"

Dan: "Too normal. We don't want him to think you're an accountant."

On: "Well, then?"

Dan: "On, for God's sake. This is your area of expertise. Don't think about it too much, just frigging well stamp a time."

On made the postcard, gave it to Hiroko for posting, who presented it to Dan before letting it enter the postal system. Dan took it reverentially into his hands, carefully holding it in his fingertips and turning it round so that he could see both sides:

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TZTxD6mcQA2BoXW5EzwYXw_thumb_103a2
Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation. Altered with their forbearance, I hope.

Dan: "It'll have to do."

Hiroko: "Oh, Dan, you've smeared the message side with peanut butter. What will Mr. Beckett think?"

Dan: "I don't give a damn what that mad Irishman thinks."

Hiroko: "Of course, you do. He wrote
Waiting for Godot. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970. I remember filing the clipping in On's 'I READ'."

Dan: "Give it a quick wipe, then. And get it into a post-box."

So there we have it. On and Hiroko and Dan and Sam against the dull and repressive Soviet regime and winning hands down. That makes perfect sense to me.


OK, let's go back a few weeks to the day of Braco Dimitrijevic's show opening. Braco appears on On's 'I MET' list for September 4, as do various other people of importance in the art world.

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

This was one of the three 'I MET' lists reproduced in On Kawara 1976 Berlin 1986, which explains why I wrote to Braco Dimitrijevic in 2021 asking him about the occasion. He kindly sent me a considered statement:

I met On for the first time in NY at the Sperone Westwater Gallery where I had an exhibition in May, 1975. He joined that gallery sometime shortly after that. At the time Conceptual artists were a small “brotherhood”, some 35 artists in all, grouped round a very few institutions. In 1972 we had shows at the Konrad Fisher in Dusseldorf a few weeks apart, and shortly after that at Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels.

In 1976 we both were guests of DAAD and stayed in Berlin for a year. He came to my opening on Sept 4, 1976 at the René Block Gallery. He was a very withdrawn person, never liked a crowd, so I was surprised to see him there.The day after I went to his place where we played ping-pong. Many times after we played that game. Last time that I remember was in Brussels at the home of our mutual friend and collector, Herman Daled.


I'm sure Braco's memory is doing its best, but his name does not feature on any more 'I MET' lists in 1976. Also, when I mentioned the ping-pong table to Koichi Ono in 2021, he didn't recall one being in On's flat in Berlin. So Braco may be thinking of a ping-pong table elsewhere.

If that is a slight mystery, then there is a bigger mystery here. From September 13, On had a most withdrawn period, meeting virtually no-one other than Hiroko until October 8. Six times that month he didn't leave the flat. When he did leave, it tended to be short walks to a shop or cafe on Kurfurstendamm, or a walk along that main road. And the only meetings were with the three Ichiyanagis on September 23 and with Hans Jurgen Hecht on September 28. The day after both these meetings On Kawara didn't leave the flat. And he wasn't Date Painting much either, just four Dates in the 26 days.

The situation gets more strange if one focuses on the beginning of it. On September 12, On met six people, Hiroko, the adult Ichiyanagis, a Japanese artist of his own age, and two women artists who had something to do with dance and/or the theatre, Yasu Ohasi and Sumi Kawai. Actually, their names are also on the September 11 list, so the meeting involving Yasu and Sumi went on after midnight and into September 12. I can't find out much about either of them, though there is this quote from Yasu Ohashi:
'The actors aim at our senses, our body and our unconscious and not at our intellect.’

On September 13, On got up early and met only Hiroko that day. Is it possible they had an argument? On September 14, On met no-one and got up extremely late (for his time in Berlin), 12.54 P.M.. This was the only day that On and Hiroko spent in Berlin up to this point when they didn't meet up at some stage during the day. So where was Hiroko?

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

It is possible that she was upset by some aspect of On's conversation or behaviour with Yasu or Sumi? Now that is pure speculation and I wouldn't make too much of it, I'm simply trying to extract the maximum from the 'I GOT UP', 'I WENT' and 'I MET' records. I wouldn't even be making these speculative suggestions if it wasn't for the 'I GOT UP' postcards that began on September 17.

But let's lead up to it. On September 15, On again got up after noon, and he met Hiroko but no-one else during the day. On September 16, he got up at a more normal time, went out locally, and again met no-one except for Hiroko. On September 17 he began to send out cards to Ellie Siegel.

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Now this was an unusual person to be sending cards to in that she was a young woman who On had met on a single occasion in Mexico City in 1968, and they had talked together as they'd shared a table at a café. (On had asked if he could share the stranger's table.) Ellie Siegel was interviewed about it by Larkin Erdmann in 2016, but nothing was said of the eight years between the single meeting and the month of postcards. What did the two talk about? Ellie was an art school teacher and they talked about art. On Kawara struck her as a good listener and 'not pushy in any way'.

Of course, it's quite possible, even probable, that these observations about Hiroko, Yasu/Sumi and Ellie are innocent and coincidental. The period of withdrawal from society might simply be because On was doing some work I don't know about, or some reading. Perhaps he was getting into some spect of German language and reading, say, the novels of Thomas Mann in the language they were written in. At some stage, I've been told by Jonathan Watkins, On Kawara was very interested in the writings of Gurdjieff, 'his unremitting search for real and universal knowledge', and that On read him extensively sometime in the 1970s.

It would make sense to ask Koichi Ono if he had an explanation for the slightly unusual 'I GOT UP', 'I WENT' and 'I MET' material. However, On didn't meet Koichi (or Yuri) from September 10 until October 16, though they then met regularly until the end of the year (six times in the second half of October, 12 times in November and 16 times in December, just to emphasise how exceptionally closed off this period was). So Koichi might have nothing to add about the matter. And of course he might choose to tell me nothing even if he did know something, in the knowledge that On Kawara was a very private individual and that he deserved Koichi's loyalty even beyond death.

I've just had another thought. What if Hiroko was ill and On didn't see her that one day because she had been taken to hospital the previous day. But that hypothesis soon falls apart. If Hiroko had returned home after the day in hospital then she would have had visitors, including Koichi and Yuri, and On too would have met them. If Hiroko had stayed in hospital for a few days or longer, then On would have visited her there and that would have been obvious from the 'I WENT' maps. So that can't be the explanation.

However, if we fast forward to the end of the year, something like that did happen between December 27 and 31 which I am going to report in detail as it makes exemplary use of 'I GOT UP', 'I WENT' and 'I MET'.

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

On Monday, December 27, On got up early because he had a busy day ahead of him. During the course of it he met Hiroko, Koichi and Yuri, but also a Helmut Kellerhoff. Who was this German gentleman? Let's leave that for a moment and follow On as he went about his business:

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Apologies that the above 'I WENT' map is not really legible, but don't worry because I can talk you through it. I believe On took Hiroko south (down the left edge of the map) to a hospital in Dahlem. The exact address is 40-47 Schweinfurthstrasse. The buildings are large and well-spaced out on this road in a wealthy suburb, so On's red stroke (you'll see it more clearly on a subsequent 'I WENT') is quite specific to this building.

The business there today is Westklinic Dahlem - a private hospital, a specialised unit for orthopaedic surgery - and its website suggests its been there for 'more than 45 years'. If that was written in 2023, then it takes us back to at least 1977, but the sentence may have been written a year or two before that. In any case, the name 'Helmut Kellerhoff' seems to be associated with a gynaecologist.

After leaving Hiroko at the private hospital under the care of Dr Kellerhoff, I suggest On travelled off the right edge of the map, going to see Koichi and Yuri, the return trip (on a different, more southern route) back home being made before midnight.

The next day, On got up very late. He didn't go out that day (per 'I WENT') so the fact that he met Koichi and Yuri means that they came round to visit him.

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

The fact that all three didn't go to the hospital may have been because whatever procedure was being performed on Hiroko was happening that day and that it wasn't appropriate that she have visitors. Hospitals used to be a lot more officious about that than they are now. So On stayed in. Not Date Painting. Perhaps reading some Gurdjieff or German. And being taken out of himself up by the visit of Koichi and Yuri.

Can you make out the red dot in the top left quarter of the following map?


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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

On Wednesday, the 29th of December, On got up late and made his postcard. As on previous days it was a card that looked towards the centre of West Berlin and the old church there. On was able to visit Hiroko that day so he made his way south to the hospital following exactly the same route as two days before.

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

On met Hiroko and they were joined by Koichi and Yuri. If this had happened in New York, then Hiroko's visitors would have been Aoki and Teresa, Nobu and Miyuki and/or Soroku and his wife. And perhaps a few more people such as the Konig family and Anna Astner. But it was Berlin and the individuals who had become good friends were Koichi and Yuri.

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

No visit from Dr Helmut Kellerhoff? No meeting with a named nurse? That seems odd. But it would seem to be the case.

Next day was Thursday and it seems no visits were allowed. So On stayed home all day, he still wasn't Date Painting. Maybe he wasn't in the mood for it. I should say that the second postcard was going to Frank Donegan, On's close friend since the tour of South America. I've already explained (see part three of the 1975 essay) why none of the cards to Donegan were included in the Michelle Didier book of 2008.

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

On must have told Koichi and Yuri that he didn't need to be visited that day, but he did have a single meeting, with one Helma Brebeck.

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Who was Helma? I guess she was a neighbour who knew that Hiroko was in hospital and who was checking up on On. Perhaps she brought with her a pan of good, hot, German soup. With sausage? Ja.

On Friday, the last day of the year, On went to the hospital to visit Hiroko. Koichi and Yuri came in too, of course. First, Yuri, then Koichi, on this occasion.

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

No sign of any medical staff. Maybe Hiroko was handling that side of things herself. Come to think of it, of course she was. A strong woman like her would need no help from anyone else in discussions about the health of her own body, whichever part of it was under discussion. This is a clearer 'I WENT' by the way, better for tracing On's visit to an actual building on a well-to-do suburban street

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Did Hiroko get home that day? Or was she in hospital over the weekend which was also the New Year holiday? The answer to that question will have to wait until the 1977 next chapter.

In the meantime, I will leave you with this vision of Hiroko lying in bed in her private room. A room that suddenly fills with the artists who had been awarded DAAD scholarships: On, Braco, Dan and Roman. Plus Koichi and Yuri. Plus Samuel Beckett, Joseph Beuys, David Bowie and Iggy Pop. All of them urging Hiroko to get better so that On could get back to his Date Painting, the single activity that had the best chance of saving the free world from drowning in a sea of soul-destroying totalitarianism.

All goes quiet in the room so that everyone could hear a certain gifted individual sing:

"I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be heroes, just for one day."


Dr Helmut Kellerhoff tries to 'silence the noise' and clear the room, but Jospeh Beuys charms the pants off him, allowing the entertainment to carry on into the wee small hours.

Next chapter.