GAME ON (35)


This year Tama Art University made available all of On Kawara's 'I MET'. Moreover, Heinz Nigg made available his November 1974, New York diary to me in English. Put these resources together and what do we get? For a start, we get a fuller picture of On Kawara's singular existence at this time, brought to vivid life by this young, curious, art-hungry visitor from Switzerland.

NOV. 3, 1974


The above is On Kawara's I MET for the day that Heinz Nigg arrived in New York. Now let's turn to Heinz's diary for that day. I'm going to present that in blue to distinguish it from my own commentary:

Arrival at Kennedy Airport. Standing in line at customs. Hiroko and On Kawara are waiting for us outside. Misty, cold fall weather. The Indian summer is over. On a parking lot outside the airport a group of Jewish citizens hold a demonstration against the PLO. They raise placards up in the air. Tomorrow, they will be in front of the UN buildings to object to the UN’s recognition of the PLO.

Driving towards Manhattan on a highway. We pay a visit to Kasper König’s family, where Johnny (Johannes) will be staying – I’ve been placed at the Kawaras’. Fancy entrance to a skyscraper. The Königs live on the nineteenth floor. Minimalist interior design. A red date painting by On Kawara on the wall of the dining room… Kasper König, the German art dealer and agent from Cologne: close-cropped hair, distinctive, sharp facial features, baggy pants, denim jacket. He translates between the Kawaras and Johnny, who doesn’t speak English. He does it in a very pleasant and charming way. König’s wife (ILKA KATHARINA SCHELLENBERG): young, green velvet jacket, baggy pants as well, made-up red cheeks. And her two children, still young. (LILI KONIG and HIROKO KONIG)

Dinner. Discussions on gallery policies. The art business is full of intrigues. Lots of small-talk.

At nine thirty in the evening, the Kawaras and I head towards downtown. They live on 22nd street. The neighborhood seems run-down. The hotel, where the gallerist Konrad Fischer had lived up until a year ago, is now a brothel. The multi-storey car park where the Kawaras keep their car seems creepy. A heavy iron gate in a side alley opens automatically. There are many typically American vehicles parked inside the car park. Suddenly a man pops up in front of us. He seems to be looking for something. A truck with the engine running is waiting outside. A second man is sitting behind the wheel. Even the Kawaras are a bit uneasy. The spook dissolves, the man disappears. We close the gate to the car park and walk to Kawaras’ loft. It’s a tall brickwork building and very old. The Kawaras don’t know anybody in the building. Lots of offices.

The elevator can only be used with a specific key. The elevator door opens on the seventh floor and leads straight into the loft. One room of approximately eighty by thirty feet. There is also an adjoining room where the Kawaras sleep. It contains a bathroom and a shower. My bed is in the large room, only separated by a folding screen. The long wall stars the latest date paintings by On Kawara. There is a ping-pong table in the middle of the room. The ceiling is equipped with a sprinkler system that automatically dispenses water in the case of fire.

A bookcase with documentation of On Kawara’s work, along with books on Conceptual Art. There is also a small collection of objects, gifts from On Kawara’s artist friends. A second bookcase with “general” books is situated in his small studio, which adjoins the large loft room just like the bedroom. It contains a few potted plants as well. The kitchen is in the large loft room, slightly separated in a kind of an alcove.

Everything seems casual. Not as tidied up and clean as back home in orderly Switzerland. Everything is arranged in a practical way, very American. The Kawaras have prepared everything extremely well for me: a bed with a radio, the bathroom and the fridge freely available for me. They have even organized a small desk. I give them some Swiss chocolate and a postcard of the Alps in the sunset. I bought the gifts on the airplane. On the back of the postcard are the three signatures of the pilots, the “new humans”, without passport or nationality, as On Kawara jokingly explained to me during his last visit in Bern a few months ago. We drink Coke and smoke. The Kawaras tell me about the beginnings of Conceptual Art ten years ago. Bedtime.

This makes complete sense of On Kawara's 'I MET' list from the name of 'HIROKO HIRAOKA' onwards. The description of the seventh floor at East 22nd Street (Heinz's diary actually says East 23rd Street, but that is an error) is invaluable. I ought to have a ping-pong in my lounge. What a de-stresser!

NOV. 4, 1974


The day's 'I WENT' shows that On Kawara only walked a few yards from the house that day. So Bill Zewlner was probably a visitor to 24 East 22nd Street. Or someone (a Google search reveals nothing on Zewlner) that On Kawara met on the street, probably a neighbour that On had got to know through their proximity. What does Heinz Nigg's diary add to the picture?

I wake up at six o’clock. Radio. A demonstration in front of the UN building is being announced. Breakfast. Discussion with On and Hiroko Kawara about their origins. The war. The special cultural situation of Japan due to its seclusion and isolation. Someone from outside cannot become Japanese for example. Japanese nationalism.

I go to the Königs’. We look at new books by Penk and Immendorf. A Walk through Central Park. It’s warm. The Indian summer is back!

Further stopovers: Museum of Modern Art, Times Square, Gotham Bookstore, where I accidentally meet the writer Gerard Malanga. He used to be Andy Warhol’s assistant and writes poems in the tradition of the Beat Generation.

Dinner at the Königs’. Evening walk along Lexington Avenue. Conversation with the Kawaras. Ping-pong. Bedtime.

NOV. 5, 1974


Again On Kawara didn't go far all day, per 'I WENT'. He took a stroll down Park Avenue and that was it. Perhaps Heinz's diary will add to that sparse scenario.

I get up, have breakfast and get going. Towards Donald Judd, one of the big names of Minimal Art. 101 Spring Street, the very corner of Spring Street and Mercer Street. Don Judd lives and works in a narrow multi-storey building. His work becomes very effective in this seemingly industrial neighborhood called SoHo.

0025oklupc7tvmlvqueqaw5gw_thumb_106c8 Untitled 1984. Donald Judd. Painted aluminium. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Waddington Galleries

König wants to publish a book on Judd’s theoretical work. Before Judd became an artist, he worked as an art critic. König brings along the necessary documents in a duffle bag. He looks like a young sailor or a GI with his close-cropped hair.

After having cheeseburgers with ketchup for lunch in an artists’ restaurant, we bump into Carl Andre in another bar, who is having a beer with the German Conceptual photographer Bernd Becher (industrial landscapes). Andre invites us to their table and tells us about his idea of complementing his exhibition in the Kunsthalle of Bern with his Minimalist poems. And he wants to show the retrospective of his installations in Cologne. Gachnang and König will accordingly explore the opinions of the gallerists Konrad Fischer and Friedrich. Andre seems very flexible. The small man appears to be quite freaky in his dungarees, with his long beard and hair, and his round little belly. He then says goodbye (has to go vote: voting day) and mentions that he can be found at the John Weber Gallery at 420 West Broadway, every day.

In the afternoon we visit this first-rate venue for Conceptual and Minimal Art. Several galleries have settled in the building. In the Sonnabend Gallery, in a gleaming white office, we negotiate with Susan Ginsberg about a possible exhibition in Bern with works by Robert Smithson, who died a year ago, and was famous for his Land Art. At Sonnabend, there is currently an exhibition with Jim Dine (Pop Art). The next exhibition will show the German artist Hanne Darboven.

At the John Weber Gallery, which also manages the work of Carl Andre, Sol LeWitt has a show. The next artists will be the Italian Lucio Pozzi and the American Robert Mangold. We receive catalogues with illustrations of Carl Andre and a copy of the art magazine Studio International with an interview with Carl Andre. I buy a poster by Sol LeWitt. We look at drawings by Robert Smithson. John Weber is his executor.

The Leo Castelli Gallery is the main attraction in the building. Castelli is said to be the big doyen of the New York gallery scene. The gallery seems almost a bit glamorous. Lawrence Wiener is exhibited. Next: here as well, Darboven! In Castelli’s office shines a neon installation by Dan Flavin. Castelli is not around. We note down his phone number.

Later that afternoon, Johnny and I walk around SoHo and buy two bottles of wine for dinner at the Kawaras.

In the evening we visit On Kawara back home in his loft in his small studio space. He is working at the screen printing model for the One Hundred Years Calendar - 20th Century 24,845 days. On is currently working on the dots representing the century’s Sundays.

Tasty dinner. We have a look at photos of On’s exhibition in the Kunsthalle Bern. After Johnny has left, a long conversation with On about the older artists Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns and about two exponents of younger Conceptual Art: Dan Graham and Joseph Kosuth. Kosuth was the first Conceptual artist who could exhibit his work at Leo Castelli’s gallery.

When talking about himself, On Kawara talks in riddles. What does he mean when he says that he wants to remain invisible and that he doesn’t want to make any official statements on his art?

It seems that On probably worked all day placing the dots on the Sundays of his hundred-year calendar. The only people he met apart from Hiroko were Heinz and Johannes who he had dinner with. On wouldn't have had any of the wine.

Heinz's day ending with On talking in riddles! Though I've been involved in this project long enough to know that On's desire for invisibility, his self-imposed silence about his art, makes perfect sense.

NOV. 6, 1974


The dinner went on until after midnight, which is why Gachnang's and Nigg's names are before Hiroko's. Another quiet day for On Kawara who took another stroll along Park Avenue South. How about Heinz?

Sleeping in. At 2 pm, I meet Johnny at the Cafeteria of the Guggenheim Museum. A circuit through the museum, literally: round and round and round. A boring solo show by Ilya Bolotowsky is being set up. At the library, I grab a catalogue on Kazimir Malevich. This reminds me of my visits to Johnny in Amsterdam, where he was living for two years, and of our discussions about the “point zero” or “zero breaks” of European modernity, which goes back to Malevich’s painting amongst others: The Black Square on White.

We drive to the Up-Down Gallery of Leo Castelli. Here he shows the classics of Pop Art: for example, paintings by Roy Lichtenstein. Warhol’s portrait of Mao tse-Tung hangs proudly above the massive wooden table in Castelli’s office. There are also a few smaller drawings by Claes Oldenburg.

We visit the Whitney Museum that shows works by Al Held. His paintings seem composed in a somewhat “Swiss way” (Bill, Lohse). The consistency and generosity of a Kenneth Noland is missing. The black-and-white space paintings with cuboids and tetrahedra are very nice.

In the Knoedler Gallery we see paintings by Larry Poons.

In the Sidney Janis Gallery, a private view of works by Michelangelo Pistoletto is taking place. Leo Castelli, a man of small stature, is floating around.

At nine o’clock in the evening I’m back at the Kawaras. A long conversation with On. He almost died three times because he was so poor in Tokyo, at the beginning of his life as an artist. But he always managed to get some money to save himself. This closeness to death gave him clarity, he says. On’s father was rich. On wanted to be independent from him. When he migrated to Mexico however, he accepted some financial support from his father. The money came from selling a Mexican company that had belonged to On’s father and was nationalised by the Mexican State.

Bedtime reading: Ursula Meyer’s book on Conceptual Art (1972).

On Kawara's extreme poverty in post-war Tokyo comes as a surprise to me. There is the suggestion that he was pushing things to see how far he could go. Which is typical On Kawara, though much more negative than the On Kawara of the Date Painting era.

On Kawara sent postcards to Ursula Meyer in November 1970 and Heinz would have seen them reproduced in that book that he chose for bedtime reading.

One has to ask oneself in passing what gave Heinz Nigg the presence of mind to keep a disciplined diary when his days were so crammed wit new places, new people and new ideas. I suspect to was his training as an anthropologist that both gave him the curiosity about the people and the tools to deal with the complex situation.

NOV. 7, 1974


On Kawara didn't leave the house this day. In other words, 'I WENT' is a red dot. Over to Heinz:

We meet at the Königs and go for lunch at the Café des Artistes. Together with Andrew Hudson of the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design, Washington. He is a Larry Poons specialist, an artist, who seems to arouse Johnny’s interest.

In the afternoon, we meet Carl Andre at the John Weber Gallery. He takes us to a charming Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village. Tea and pastries. Provisional state of affairs regarding the Kunsthalle Bern: production of a comprehensive catalogue of art works, Catalogue Raisonné, an exhibition with poems and possibly a few installations. What Andre tells me: He grew up working class. He thinks that class barriers in the US can be overcome more easily than in Europe. He doesn’t think much of philosophy. He invites us on Sunday to dinner at the place of his partner Angela Westwater.

ba47cfz4qte09ecvg0025k6qa_thumb_106c7 Venus Forge 1980. Carl Andre. Steel plates and copper plates.Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Waddington Galleries

Afterwards, a walk with Johnny through SoHo, almost deserted after dark. We pass the corner building where Donald Judd lives and works. The area seems spooky. A violent gust of wind lets some large scraps of paper fly through the air.

I go home. The Kawaras have a guest from Japan, a ballet critic.

Clearly Miyabi Ichikawa is the ballet critic that Heinz mentions.

I should add that Heinz is helping Johannes (Johnny) line up American artists for the Kunsthalle in Bern where On Kawara had a ground-breaking show in 1974. Carl Andre and Donald Judd in particular, are being pursued. Or is it the New York artists that are pursuing the Swiss gallerists?

On Kawara is above all that, of course. Sitting in his seventh floor flat, serene as the Buddha.

NOV. 8, 1974


Again the meeting with the Kawaras' visitor clearly went on until after midnight. Another red dot day for On Kawara. Or almost. It looks as if On walked to the middle of the road and then returned to base. How about Heinz's day?

Johnny and I visit the Café des Artistes again, where he has left his address book. They offer us a drink. Together with Kasper König, we pay a visit to John Chamberlain in his art studio. He’s famous for his Junk Art. His studio seems like a large garage. He compresses car parts to create sculptures, assemblages.

König offers us sandwiches (and chewing gum for dessert) in a restaurant for truck drivers, somewhere in the inhospitable area of the harbor.

Visit to the art book store of Jaap Rietman on Spring Street. I buy two posters: Art and Artist as Clerics. I immerse myself in a book by Malevich, Essays on Art. I buy Lucy M. Lippard’s book, Changing – Essays in Art Criticism.

Dinner at Königs’: rice, baked shrimps, salad and vanilla semolina pudding. König accuses me of reading too much about art instead of looking at it. And that’s what art is all about, he says: to look at it closely! (Clyfford Still).

Today, I summarize a Clyfford Still article anyway, which appeared in a Newsweek edition of 1960...

At home at the Kawaras’, discussions until two o’clock at night. Later on, I thumb through a catalogue on Carl André.

It seems to me that Heinz is doing a lot of reading, a lot of talking and a lot of looking. The Holy Trinity. And if you had On Kawara to talk with, then the young man, the wise man, the anthropologist, takes full advantage. You keep talking and listening, listening, listening into the early hours of the morning.

NOV. 9, 1974


Another red dot day for On Kawara. Which means that Soroku Toyoshima, one of On's inner circle of Japanese New Yorker artist friends, must have come to see him. Did Heinz meet Soroku? Let's see what his diary reveals.

I get up at 10:30 a.m., breakfast. Conversation with the Kawaras about life in the US. Everything is fast: change of profession, making friends. Hiroko’s mother was still wedded by her parents.

On gives me an article by Michel Claura and Rene Denizot (Studio International, April 1970). It’s an exhibition of early Conceptual Art in Paris, organized by Setz Siegelaub. A few of the earliest, best-known Conceptual artists: Ian Wilson, Lawrence Weiner, Richard Long, Sol LeWitt, Jan Dibbets, Daniel Buren. Where are the women?

We talk about the relationship between art and science. In Japan, there are a few young art critics who come from science backgrounds and write in a completely new way. One of them used to be a nuclear physicist, On tells me.

The fridge is empty. I go grocery shopping.

I read parts of the text by Claura/Denizot. Wow! Quite abstract, it goes more or less like this: What is there that is crucial to say? The necessity of making a decision. The choice lies in the language. To talk crucially means describing differences.

Whether such texts are able to inspire me? What I learn: dealing with language seems to be a prerequisite if you want to comprehend Conceptual Art.

On Kawara tells me about his youth: He was a good student, but he soon started to question everything. During classes, he read books and answered the teachers’ questions by saying: “I don’t know”. Sometimes he fell asleep during classes because he had been reading all night. The teachers had trouble handling On as a student. However, they had to be careful because On’s father was an important figure in the city of Kariya (Aichi).

In art classes, On dealt with Modern Art, with Mondrian among others. He copied various artists. In order not to let On’s virus of Modern Art infect other students, On received a key to his own studio which he could retreat to whenever he wanted. The fact that On did not go to an art university after finishing school disappointed his teacher.

On Kawara wanted to be independent and moved to Tokyo, four hours away. He slept in subway stations and poked around book shops in order to find interesting information. A kind old bookseller offered him a place to sleep – in a box under a table. On got to know three artists, a puppet player, a painter, and a sculptor. They were his friends. Thanks to them, he met people at the University of Tokyo. A large problem that engaged On Kawara and many others of his generation: why and how have their parents copied the democratic views of the Americans, and freed themselves from Japanese chauvinism, so quickly after the end of the war?

On Kawara started writing. One of his articles, on beauty and ugliness, was published by the Philosophy Department of the University. After about six months of living on the street, he could afford an apartment. He started drawing. With pencil on the cheapest paper. It was not until much later that he could afford expensive coloured pencils. With these drawings, which expressed Japan’s existential problems and traumas of war, he became widely known in Japan. The Modern Art Museum of Tokyo possesses a series of these drawings, which will be shown in Düsseldorf this year.

On Kawara wanted to free himself from his early fame as a young artist. Up until today, he has tried to make it clear to the Japanese that his later work as a Conceptual artist in the US (date paintings and other works) have nothing to do with Japan, or if it does, only on a very abstract level. His later work should be regarded more closely in relation to his years of wandering, after he emigrated from Japan to Mexico, Paris, and other places.

At six o’clock in the afternoon, I go to Königs’. A glass of red wine. I read two articles about Clyfford Still: “I am not an illustrator of my time”. Well, I am...

We are about to head to a party at the René Block Gallery. Ilka, Kasper König’s wife, looks lovely: blueish purple shadow around her eyes, eyelids painted in red. Eyebrows are neatly plucked. The cheerful cheeks are powdered red. She’s wearing a rust-red blouse and a blueish silk skirt. High leather boots. We all take a cab together.

At the entrance to the gallery we’re ticked off on the invitation list. A lift-boy takes us up to the first floor, where we take off our coats. The party on the second floor has already started. Under the maxim: decadence and fin de siècle. It is actually a birthday party for a seventy-year-old lady who is an art critic. A tiny woman in white with a small hat and plumes makes eyes at me. Other women wear a similar outfit, but this one is a real gem! Another woman, she introduces herself as Lily Ente, doesn’t stop talking to me, introduces me to her girlfriend, who is a sculptor. I have a hard time to get out of their way. “In order to be an artist, one has to be a little crazy”, says the sculptor. I go get myself a gin and tonic. I toast with Johnny, who introduces me to Claes Oldenburg, with whom he is in the middle of a discussion. Oldenburg pretends to be bored: “The good thing about such parties is the fact that you don’t remember the next day what you’ve been talking about.” A New Yorker original is being introduced to me. He is a mailman and a passionate art collector. The artists sell small artworks to him at a low price. Afterwards, I talk to a charming, beautiful, and vivid female director of some museum. I get to know the conceptual artist Bill Beckley, who will have an exhibition at the John Gibson Gallery starting from November 23rd. He will also display his art at Konrad Fischer in Düsseldorf. He seems fresh and friendly. I go home at one o’clock at night, very tired.

It looks as if Heinz may have missed meeting Soroku. Unfortunate, but then you can't be in two places at once. You simply can't be with the trendy art crowd at a party and with a trusted confidante of On Kawara simultaneously! Any anthropologist worth his salt knows that!

NOV. 10, 1974


The Königs and Johnny come to visit us in the afternoon. We discuss On Kawara’s catalogue for his exhibition in Brussels and the screen printing of the calendar One Hundred Years. It is decided that to start out with, only 365 copies will be printed in the year, 1974 (for every day, an original). Half of the screen printings will go to the Kunsthalle Bern.

Pumpkin bread and tea. Ping-pong.

Johnny and I are invited to Carl Andre and his girlfriend Angela Westwater for dinner at eight o’clock. A modern apartment. Music by Bach. The walls are covered with pastel-colored prints by Sol LeWitt. Sauerkraut, ribs, sausages, potatoes, and white wine. Carl Andre doesn’t like Marcel Duchamp at all – and doesn’t warm to graphic design either. He shows us his Quincy book, pictures of his hometown in Massachusetts. A slightly formal night. We check out one another and get to know each other better.

So the Konig family went to the Kawaras during the day. That would have been a sociable time as everyone knew and liked each other. The two Konig kids even stayed with On and Hiroko when their own parents were out of New York.

In the evening, Heinz went to meet Carl Andre, while it looks as if On went out to see Hugh Shiroo. On's 'I WENT' for the day is complex. Shiroo being an artist from Japan who was making abstract work at the time.

NOV. 11, 1974


The meeting with Hugh Shiroo went on after midnight. On travelled this day, but not far. How about Heinz?

Johnny and Kasper König travel to Baltimore to see Clyfford Still, one of the big names of Abstract Expressionism. He is willful and reserved. It’s about a possible exhibition in Bern.

I write postcards, play ping-pong with On, and at five o’clock I go to a cocktail reception for Gerard Malanga at the Gotham Bookstore. I buy the Whole Earth Catalogue and the little book Witt with twenty-two poems by Patti Smith, whom I briefly meet at the cocktail reception.

I soon go home again. On, Hiroko, and two guests play Mahjong. I watch TV and cook for myself some rice. I read an article by Lippard about Sol LeWitt.

Who were the mah-jongg players? Well, Hugh Shiroo would have been met the previous day, staying until after midnight but I'm assuming then left and didn't return. So I'm thinking the mah-jongg players (in addition to On and Hiroko) were two from Miyabi Ichikawa, Ay-O and Ken-Ichi Tatsuno. Ay-O was a successful artist of On Kawara's generation, who went through several very different phases in his development, including performance art, and was an associate of Naim June Paik. Given that On was playing mah jongg, I imagine he got up late the next day. Indeed he did, 12.44 A.M., as the 'I GOT UP' card makes awe-inspiringly clear.

NOV. 12, 1974


So Ay-O and Miyabi Ichikawa were the mah jongg players. Presumably On Kawara won the game. I've been told by Nobu Fukui, another of On's inner circle, though not around in November 1974, that On was by far the best player. I am going to ask Heinz if On was also the best ping-pong player. (He can't remember!) But for now let's take a look at his precious diary, The written words that come to our aid when our memories let us down.

I go to a book shop in East Village in the afternoon. I buy books for (my friend) Theo Ruff: Scenes Along the Road by Ann Charters, a photo book about the Beatniks. And by Michael McClure: Rare Angel, Love Lion Book and Star: Selected Writings by Joe Brainard. Post Office by Charles Bukowski. And Cancer in my left ball, by John Giorno.

At five o’clock I meet Carl Andre at the John Weber Gallery. Hanne Darboven is there as well. Together we go to Andre’s favorite Italian café for a chat.

Back at the Kawaras’. Cozy atmosphere. Tasty dinner with filled cabbage leaves based on an Italian recipe.

I call Sol LeWitt to make an appointment for Thursday at two o’clock.

I read the chapter, Sol LeWitt: Nonvisual Structures, in Lucy M. Lippard’s book, Changing. It’s a description of the series of four, set A, set B, set C, set D, 1966, with open and closed cubes. A visualization of the structural principle. It’s in a musical way that the series should be understood, not statically like an architectural model.

Sol LeWitt in Conceptual Art and Conceptual Aspects (New York Cultural Center, 1970):

“I will refer to the kind of art in which I am involved as conceptual art. In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art. This kind of art is not theoretical or illustrative of theories; it is intuitive, it is involved with all types of mental processes and it is purposeless. It is usually free from the dependence on the skill of the artist as a craftsman. It is the objective of the artist who is concerned with conceptual art to make his work mentally interesting to the spectator, and therefore usually he would want it to become emotionally dry. There is no reason to suppose, however, that the conceptual artist is out to bore the viewer. It is only the expectation of an emotional kick, to which one conditioned to expressionist art is accustomed, that would deter the viewer from perceiving this art.”

lo4uqcfaqcor88vlj9tp1w_thumb_106c9 Cubic-Cube Cross, 1970. Sol LeWitt. White painted steel. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Waddington Galleries

“If the artist carries through his idea and makes it into visible form, then all the steps in the process are of importance. The idea itself, even if not made visual, is as much a work of art as any finished product. All intervening steps – scribbles, sketches, drawings, failed works, models, studies, thoughts, conversations – are of interest. Those that show the thought process of the artist are sometimes more interesting than the final product.”

“Conceptual art doesn’t really have much to do with mathematics, philosophy, or any other mental discipline. The mathematics used by most artists is simple arithmetic or simple number systems. The philosophy of the work is implicit in the work and it is not an illustration of any system of philosophy.”

That's a long quote from Sol LeWitt, but I'll leave it in. LeWitt was clearly an important figure to Heinz Nigg during his visit to Manhattan.

Having got up late, On Kawara didn't go far, just round the block. Oh, and I should say that On wasn't Date Painting during Heinz's stay. Whether because the loft studio wasn't set up to be inhabited by someone else, and so he couldn't concentrate as he needed to, or because On was working on something else.

NOV. 13, 1974


Another red dot day for On Kawara. He did not set foot outside the loft. More close friends of On Kawara's came to visit. Frank Donegan, who he'd got to know in Mexico City. Aoki, On's closest friend of all. And Aoki's wife, Teresa, the only friend to get 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams (several), all the rest going to people who were primarily business contacts: gallery owners and curators.

Did Heinz meet these close friends? Let's see:

I got up with the intent to let the impressions of the past few days settle a bit. Extended breakfast. Further readings on Sol LeWitt in the afternoon. I read the preface by Klaus Honnef in Concept Art, Cologne, 1971.

I meet Carl Andre at Café Reggio, Macdougal Street at five o’clock. Carl Andre says: “The situation in the art scene in New York at the moment, in November, is like fall in the Swiss Alps: it’s getting colder, the cows huddle together.” He is annoyed about how the talking about art diverts from the actual art: “A collector enters a gallery and looks at an artwork. He talks to the gallerist, who brings him a photograph of the same artwork. The focus on the original is gone. The talking about art begins.” Walk through East and Greenwich Village.

The Kawaras have guests. A Japanese artist and art teacher, as well as a journalist. Telephone call with Johnny. They are back from Baltimore.

Oh, well, you can't have everything. Heinz does not seem to have 'met' Frank, Aoki and Teresa. He's left it all out there, on the streets of New York. Which is how it has to be, at least some days. But I will ask him if he remembers anything about the three. I know a fair bit about Aoki and Teresa already, but would like to know more about Frank Donegan, who declined to provide a biographical note about himself in respect of his contribution to the Phaidon monograph about On Kawara published in 2002.

NOV. 14, 1974


Actually, that list suggests that Aoki and Frank Donegan stayed until after midnight. And Heinz's position on the list suggests he was still around then too. So Heinz might have learned something about these two after all.

On just stepped out into the middle of the road and then returned to base. That's what the 'I WENT' map suggests anyway. What about Heinz?

I get up early and arrive at the Königs’ at ten o’clock. Animated working atmosphere. One telephone call after the other. I even get my share: I talk to Sol LeWitt to postpone Saturday’s meeting to eleven o’clock. I call the Museum of Modern Art to arrange a meeting with Mr. Dexxer of the Architecture Department. Hamburger lunch with the Königs.

At one o’clock, research in the library of the Museum of Modern Art. I’m looking for a correspondence between Clyfford Still, André Breton and the art critic Clement Greenberg. No success.

We arrive to see Mr. Dexxer at two o’clock. He explains to Johannes Gachnang why he doesn’t want to hold an exhibition on the German architect Hans Scharoun: Since the Bauhaus dogma is dead. It doesn’t make any sense to show the classics of Bauhaus architecture. He is more interested in an exhibition on the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and its influence on the United States.

At four o’clock, we see a large painting by Clyfford Still in an art storeroom. Everything is secure, with an ID badge system in place. We meet a student, who is writing a paper on Clyfford Still.

I go for a walk by myself, and to the Königs’ afterwards. On my way I have a Coke in a bar and hear the band Chicago and Bob Dylan from the jukebox. I buy flowers and a bottle of Chianti.

The Königs have the curator of the Hirschfeld Collection in Washington as a guest. He is also planning an exhibition on Clyfford Still, in Spring 1976.

We have spaghetti carbonara for dinner. The gallerist Friedrich calls. Discussion with Kasper König about Carl Andre’s Minimalist poems. Are they artworks or poetry, or both?

At home at the Kawaras’, I listen to a record by Patti Smith and write in my diary. Towards the end of our trip to New York everything goes full speed. Johnny accelerates.

Yes, Heinz had a busy, active day. He and his colleague were taking an interest in the abstract expressionist Clyfford Still, who was of an earlier generation, as well as zeroing-in on the minimalists and conceptualists (Carl Andre, Donald Judd and Sol Lewitt). I'm picking up that the Clyfford Still side of things was more awkward for them, in part because by 1974 he'd already been partly absorbed into art history. He would be dead by 1980.

So Heinz listened to Patti Smith when he got home. I imagine that meant that Hiroko and On Kawara listened to it as well. It might have been the Hey Joe/ Piss Factory single, as that came out in 1974. Both absolutely fantastic songs, sung in an amazing way. I was listening to it as well, back in the UK. Wave after wave of highly charged, stream of consciousness lyrics, And I can still recall how 'Piss Factory' ends:

"I'm gonna go on that train and go to New York City I'm gonna be somebody, I'm gonna get on that train, go to New York City, I'm gonna be so bad I'm gonna be a big star and I will never return, Never return, no, never return, to burn out in this PISS FACTORY."

NOV. 15, 1974


On's 'I WENT" showed he was out and about this day. In particular he went off the north edge of his map to Riverside Drive. Does this hook up with Heinz's account? I think it does, though not immediately.

I get up early again. I go to the Swiss Center to confirm my flight back at the Swissair office. Then I go to the Königs. Kasper calls Angela Westwater. She says that Carl Andre is getting more and more interested in an exhibition at the Kunsthalle Bern.

We head to Richard Serra’s studio in the harbour area. Secluded. Tough. He is working on black paintings with layers of oil pastel. He wants to mount a sculpture in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. He wants to achieve a lot. He is dynamic in conversation. He says that much of what came after Abstract Expressionism is a kind of mannerism.

Mr. Abraham joins us for dinner at an Italian restaurant in SoHo. He teaches at the Cooper Union College in Lower Manhattan and comes from Vienna. We get on brilliantly. He is very interested in an exhibition on Hans Scharoun at the Cooper Union!

We all drive to the storage, where On Kawara stores his work in Northern Manhattan, in a poor, run-down area. The secure multi-storey building hosts numerous small and large storerooms for a variety of goods: household equipment, furniture etc. On is renting one of these rooms. All four walls are provided with large shelves for his date paintings. Every painting is packed into a cardboard box. Every box contains a newspaper article on a topic of the day, from when the date painting was produced.

I’m overwhelmed. On Kawara must really believe in his work if he puts in all this endless effort! It is not only about producing the date paintings. He also has to pack them accordingly, to document them, to keep them stored and to manage them until the day they are shown again somewhere in the world, with their surprising peculiarity and elegance.

Sol LeWitt: “If the artist carries through his idea and makes it into visible form, then all the steps in the process are of importance.”

Through the daily rush hour, we head back to SoHo by car. We visit the Gallery Friedrich, which represents Carl Andre in Europe. Carl Andre and Angela Westwater are there as well. Johnny has to negotiate the final conditions for the exhibition at the Kunsthalle Bern. Carl Andre gets his work catalog, and Johnny asserts himself regarding a photographic appendix. Agreed!

To toast the deal, Carl Andre invites us to a round of cognac at a bar. Everybody is happy.

A walk through the neighborhood with Johnny. I think he is also happy with my services as a translator, researcher and contact arranger.

We eat seafood (paella) at the Kawaras. Dan Graham is their guest. He doesn’t stop talking, but with a very soft voice. He says that Internationalism in art is dead. Long live the hope of new local art! Kasper König also stops by. The night ends with an exciting ping-pong tournament.

I think On Kawara went with Heinz and Johannes to his storeroom, but clearly didn't go with Heinz and Johannes to seal the deal with Carl Andre. Angela Westawter was On Kawara's New York dealer as well as Carl Andre's, so that social situation had to be handled with care. Was it? Watch this space.

So who would have been in the ping-pong tournament? On and Hiroko. Heinz and Johannes. Kasper and Dan. But who else? Maybe just six. I'm thinking that On Kawara would have won. Frank Donegan could never beat him, anyway. But ping-pong is a funny game, largely based on confidence. There was a friend at school who could never beat me. Until the day he did mange to scrape a win. After that I never won another single game. His free-flowing smashing game simply never looked back.

I think there would have been a lot of laughter at the ping-pong tournament. More laughter than when Heinz and Johannes were sealing the deal by drinking cognac bought by Carl Andre at the bar? 'Everybody is happy,' speaks to me of ping-pong, but also Equivalence I to VIII.

NOV. 16, 1974


So the ping-pong went on until after midnight. And on the 16th proper, On met the Kogure family. He also moved around Manhattan quite bit. How about Heinz?

Our last day before we head back to Switzerland. Johnny and I take a cab and go to 117 Hester Street to visit Sol LeWitt. A miserable neighborhood in the Lower East Side. To me, he seems like a sensitive academic among the artists. He states that there is not much going on at the moment in New York. Even a metropolis can be provincial. However, New York is still the most important center for art regarding galleries and commerce. According to him, Hanna Darboven at Castelli and Sonnabend are the latest thing. A European female artist has clearly received recognition in New York. Today Americans exhibit in Europe and Europeans exhibit in the US. That is normal today. He wonders whether in the future, artists might avoid the gallery system and create something new. He’s tried that with some of his own works. He shows us a booklet that is being printed at the moment: twenty-eight variations of seven plates. Copperplate engraving. Beautiful.

To SoHo, for the last time. We visit the John Weber Gallery. Johnny chooses photos of Carl Andre’s old and new works. Coffee and sweets.

2:15 PM at the Friedrich Gallery. With Friedrich and Laszlo Glozer (Süddeutsche Zeitung) to the Judds. Donald Judd takes us up to the third floor in the elevator. There is only one gigantic metal box in the room. On the fifth floor, there are works by Dan Flavin and John Chamerblain. Judd, the collector! Judd shows me an article about Malevich, which he wrote himself. The exhibition with works by Donald Judd at the Kunsthalle Bern is supposed to take place in Spring 1975. We use a non-blended whiskey to toast the deal. Going down in the elevator, I see a Robert Rauschenberg and a Sol LeWitt propped against the wall. Very casual! Next to them, a rifle in a leather case. Laszlo Glozer, the journalist, tells me about his visit to Donald Judd at his studio in Texas. The people there are much more open towards Modern Art than Europeans. We decide to keep in touch. Glozer wants to write an article about his US art trip as well.

Preview hype at the gallery building on West Broadway. Darboven is the focus of attention. I meet Annemarie and Gianfranco Verna, the gallerists from Zurich, who have been fervently dedicating themselves to new art movements over the last few years. Carl Andre gives Johnny a book on minerals in the Swiss alps. Sol LeWitt shows up, a bit battered. He has not yet quite recovered from jaundice, which he picked up in Belgium. The Sonnabends guide us through the gigantic showrooms of their gallery. We see paintings by Mel Bochner and Jim Dine.

After the preview, Johnny and I stroll through Greenwich Village. He buys two glove puppets for the Königs’ children, a mouse and an owl. Afterwards we enjoy T-bone steaks and talk about our good friend Theo Ruff for a very long time.

I've just noticed that once again Heinz missed out on meeting Soroku Toyoshima. Oh well, he still got his money's worth out of his last day in New York. Meetings with Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt, lots of art too look at, plus an opening in hip Manhattan.

NOV. 17, 1974


There is no more of Heinz Nigg's New York diary. But the 'I WENT' map suggests that On and Hiroko drove to the Konig household and picked up Johannes, and that some or all of them went on to JFK Airport and waved off their guests.

What a fabulous fortnight. Heinz Nigg - oh, lucky man! But he got the invite to stay with On Kawara because the artist had met the young anthropologist and been very impressed with him in Bern. In this life, you make your own luck.

On the 18th of November, On didn't go out. On November 21st, 22nd and 27th, he Date Painted. I wonder how easy it was to clear his mind of the preceding fortnight.

NOV. 21, 1974

As On painted he realised it has been a boon to have Heinz around. Heinz had brought to On's attention - had reminded him so clearly - how the grids and cubes of New York, the city's window-covered skyscrapers, had been incorporated into the recent work of Donald Judd, Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt.

NOV. 22, 1974

As On painted he remembered what Nobu Fukui had once told him about Carl Andre. Carl had said to Nobu about On: "That guy has some funny ideas!" On hadn't known how to respond at first, and said nothing. But later it became a joke between them. Well, not quite a joke as Nobu and On had a lot of time for what the Minimalists and Conceptualists were doing. Every now and then there would be an exchange between Nobu and On that went something like this:

On: "You know those guys, Carl Andre, Donald Judd and Sol Lewitt?"

Nobu: "Sure."

On: "They have some hotshot steel and aluminium pieces between them."

And again:

Nobu: "You know those guys, Carl Andre, Donald Judd and Sol Lewitt?"

On: "Sure."

On: "They have some motherfuckin' nerve!"

NOV. 27, 1974

Heinz had left the Patti Smith record behind. And On was playing it over and over as he painted the Date and as he waited for it to dry. Both sides of the 45" single. At the beginning of the day he preferred the sanity of 'Piss Factory'. It reminded him of his early days in New York when he played chess all night and slept all day. But by the end of the day, it was the madness of 'Hey Joe' that attracted him. On would sing along with Patti Smith as he carefully painted in the white letters. But in a thoughtful way, not committing to the stream of consciousness so much as examining it from afar:

"Hey Joe, where're you goin' with that gun in your hand? Hey Joe, I said where're you goin' with that gun in your hand? 'I'm gonna go shoot my ol' lady 'You know, I found her messin' around town with another man 'And you know that ain't cool.'"

On had a good ear and a good memory. He didn't know if he liked the song, but he knew he liked the singer. And five minutes later he was still coming up with the lyrics:

"I am no little pretty, little rich girl I am nobody's million dollar baby I am nobody's patsy anymore I'm nobody's million dollar baby I'm nobody's patsy anymore I feel so free."


Thanks to Heinz Nigg for so generously giving permission to include his New York diary. And thanks as usual to Million Years Foundation for not objecting to my use of the invaluable On Kawara material.

A version of Heinz Nigg's New York diary is included in his forthcoming book of photographs: NEW YORK: UP CLOSE, which includes a conversation between Heinz and me that is exclusive to the print book. I'll add a link to the book when it becomes available. In the meantime, dear reader, here is the cover:


In draft form, the copyright page includes the following lines:

"When I look at the cover of the book, I first see one thing: a strong, successful, American face. But when I look at it again, I see two things: a dustbin for all that humanity has done in the last million years, and a dustbin for all that humanity will do in the next million years."

Duncan McLaren, writer about contemporary art and an admirer of On Kawara