1972 (after all)

Again I've changed my mind about missing out a year of On Kawara's ultra-productive maturity. Having found an online source of over a hundred postcards written in 1972, I've now got a decent amount of source material. And there are things that happened in 1972 that would shape the artist's future work.

In January, On Kawara wrote postcards to art historian Gerard Durozoi, based in Belgium. He is/was the author of
A History of the Surrealist Movement, amongst many other books. At the beginning of 1972, One Million Years had been shown at the Brussels gallery of Cologne-based gallerist, Paul Maenz, so that may have been how Gerard Durozoi and On Kawara became connected. But it's not the postcards to Gerard Durozoi that I'm excited about, those will come later in this essay.

Two Date Paintings were made in January, one's subtitle concerned political unrest in Ghana, the other concerned the trial of a Nazi in Vienna. In February, the Date Paintings began to flow again. Here is a copy of the relevant page from the artist's 'Journal', as reproduced in
On Kawara: continuity/discontinuity.

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

This would be the last year that On Kawara gave subtitles to his Date Paintings, other than the day of the week it was painted on. So it's worth giving them space and time. Nixon in China… India and Pakistan at each other's throats… and finally a quote in Swahili, which Google translates as: 'Where is the car station? I want a Nairobi ticket.'

I do not have access to a single I GOT UP AT, I WENT or I MET for February. Really I am working with the tip of an iceberg. With On Kawara totally responsible for the iceberg and largely responsible for what constitutes the visible tip. So straight on to March's Date Paintings.

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

Oh, the politics of it all. Taiwan a mere province of China. Northern Ireland a mere province of Britain. But the opening of the Berlin Wall was a light at the end of the tunnel. And, to celebrate, an all-Chinese table-tennis tournament was organised in Canada.

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

Why did Apollo 16 blast off for the moon? To get away from the madness that is called life on earth, I suppose. Human life on earth.

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

Why did Hiroko give her first name to König's surname? Kasper Konig had become a father for the second time and he gave the name Hiroko to his child. The least On could do was adopt the name as a subtitle for the relevant Date Painting.

I've gone past something that I need to refer to. In March, On Kawara sent a postcard (or, more likely, let's face it, many postcards) to Doug Waterman at Nova Scotia School of Art and Design. Still not the postcards that I'm excited about, but let's mention this in passing as it leads to something significant in 1973.

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

Doug Waterman was an artist who came from Nova Scotia, and was active there at the time. Why did On Kawara write to him? Well, in May, 1972, One Million Years was on show in this art college in the middle of nowhere (north west Canada). The school had an enterprising director, and Kasper König would be the resident director of its publishing program for a few years from 1972. Perhaps KK told OK about Doug Waterman's 'Shuffle', which was on show at the college in February, 1972.

It's worth reading this description of the work, which was found on vtape.org:


Neat, eh? I guess On Kawara thought so too. Which reminds me that Lucy Lippard's book,
Dematerializing the Art Object, contains images of Dan Graham rolling around the floor, filming himself, when he was in residence in 1970. Go for it, Dan.


The piece was so successful that Dan reprised it at the gallery in 1971.
Kasper König and Dan Graham both MET On Kawara in January of 1972, so the Nova Scotia School of Roll and Shuffle might have been discussed then. (No doubt they met more often than that in the early months of 1972, but I've only seen I MET for January 30.)

In a 2011 interview given by Dan Graham, he refers to how
Kasper König came to be at Nova Scotia, as follows:


The word 'irreverent' has been replaced by 'irrelevant' in that discussion. That's what I love about Dan Graham. His irreverent humour. The same irreverent humour that he loved in Kasper König and, I strongly suspect, in On Kawara.

By late May, the postcards were going to Dr Daled in Brussels and Dr Hultén in Stockholm. The image below is of I GOT UP, the complete edition of which is available from Michele Didier in Paris.

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

Dr Daled was a Belgian art collector and radiologist. Perhaps he too saw One Million Years when it was in Brussels. He and his wife had a collection of conceptual art which included work by Richard Long, Marcel Broodthaers, On Kawara, Dan Graham, Sol LeWitt, and Vito Acconci.

But it's Dr. K. P. Hultén that is central to this narrative. He was the director of the Moderna Musée in Stockholm, and would go on to organise a solo show of On Kawara when he became director of the Pompidou Centre in Paris. But first things first. The postcards sent to him in 1972: an irresistible collection. These were donated to the Moderna Musée in 2005, and the enlightened museum has put them online, photographed by Peter Grimner. All 116 of them, starting from May 14, 1972.

Alas, they are not visible in date order. That would be asking too much. So I've been through them, and put them in order. First, the May and June cards. '340' means that it was posted from 340 East 13th Street. '65' means the card was posted from 65 East Broadway, Kasper Konig's New York address. And 'Hen' refers to an out-of-town location that I'll get back to after discussing the 65 East Broadway postcards.

14 340 10.18am
15 340 9.40am
16 340 10.42am
17 340 9.47am
18 missing DP
19 340 10.24am DP
20 340 10.11am
21 340 12.06pm
22 340 7.11am
23 Hen 7.27am Tuesday
24 340 8.50am DP
25 65 8.17am
26 65 8.34am
27 65 10.06am DP
28 65 8.42am
29 65 8.19am DP
30 65 5.20am
31 65 8.08aam DP

1 65 9.08am
2 65 8.09am
3 65 8.02am
4 65 8.15am DP
5 65 8.24am
6 65 8.32am DP
7 65 6.05am
8 65 7.58am DP
9 65 8.35am
10 65 7.42am
11 340 8.40am
12 Hen 7.39am Monday
13 340 10.16am
14 340 9.31am
15 340 8.59am
16 340 10.47am
17 340 9.48am
18 340 10.12am
19 340 8.43am
20 340 10.22am
21 340 10.32am
22 340 9.08am DP
23 340 9.47am
23 340 7.40am
24 340 4.20am
25 340 10.54am
26 340 8.31am DP
27 340 9.17am
28 340 5.19am
29 Hen 8.06am Thursday
30 340 10.07am

I wonder why On Kawara was located at 65 East Broadway for 17 days in a row? I wonder if some of his Date Paintings were still stored there, as they had been in 1967? I wonder if the flat was empty because Kasper König was in Nova Scotia at the time, or in Europe? I wonder if On was staying with his good friend, Kasper? Access to I MET for the period would answer some or all of these questions. But for now, here is a postcard sent to Stockholm in May.

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

A scrutiny of the picture side of the postcards (or rather a study of the paragraph descriptions found in the top left of the message side), reveals that the sequence of cards builds up a picture - often via aerial shots - of Mid-Manhattan, Lower Manhattan and the bridges between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Almost half of the 17 cards mention Lower Manhattan. In fact, let's list the titles in order:

  • East Side Airlines Terminal. At 38th and 1st Avenue.
  • Midtown Manhattan Skyline
  • Aerial view of New York showing Brooklyn and Manhattan.
  • Lower Manhattan skyline from the air.
  • Lower Manhattan skyline
  • Brooklyn Bridge
  • Brooklyn Bridge (different view)
  • Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, between Brooklyn and Statens Island
  • Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, between Brooklyn and Statens Island (different view)
  • Lower Manhattan skyline (different view)
  • Lower Manhattan from Governors Island
  • Lower Manhattan skyline (different view)
  • Aerial View of Lower Manhattan (different view)
  • Aerial view of Lower Manhattan (different view)
  • Lower Manhattan
  • Statue of Liberty
  • Lower New York Harbour

On Kawara has worked his way from north to south, from Midtown Manhattan to the lower New York harbour, but with special attention on Lower Manhattan. All the cards have a link to the place on East Broadway that On Kawara slept the previous night. Of course, the places would also have a link to 340 East 13th Street, but not quite as strong a connection.

Right, on to the July and August cards. The letters 'But' refers to Butternut Grove Campsite in Roscoe, an address that took over from the 'Hen' or Hendrix Hotel address.

1 340 10.11am
2 340 10.14am
3 340 10.19am
4 340 10.12am
5 340 10.50am
6 340 5.45am
7 But 8.29am Friday
8 340 9.57am
9 340 9.27am
10 340 9.40am
11 340 10.00am
12 340 9.01am
13 340 9.25am
14 340 9.55am
15 340 10.46am DP
16 340 11.22am
17 340 10.27am DP
18 340 9.40am
19 340 6.04am
20 But 6.19am Thursday
21 340 9.56am
22 340 11.45am
23 missing
24 340 9.59am
25 340 10.06am
26 340 10.17am DP
27 340 9.18am
28 340 10.18am DP
29 340 11.20am
30 340 9.20am
31 But 6.39am Monday

1 340 10.34am
2 340 10.12am
3 340 11.20am
4 340 10.05am
5 340 10.16am
6 340 9,03am
7 340 11.50am
8 340 9.59am
9 340 10.26am
10 missing
11 But 6.16am Friday
12 340 10.01am
13 340 12.42pm
14 340 10.21am
15 340 10.05am
16 340 8.39am
17 340 9.52am DP
18 340 10.02am
19 340 9.57am
20 340 2.52pm
21 340 5.52am
22 But 6.15am Tuesday
23 But 8.13am Wednesday
24 340 11.16am
25 340 9.21am
26 340 10.02am
27 340 10.44am DP
28 340 9.34am
29 340 9.51am
30 But 5.28am Wednesday
31 340 10.19am

The three nights spent at Hendrix Motel, Roscoe, in May/June and the seven nights at Butternut Grove Campsite, Roscoe, in July/August come to ten in all, with no Date Paintings produced on any of these days. I suspect On Kawara went there for the fly fishing, as the place has a famous trout river running through it. One can readily imagine On Kawara practising this art. From taking fastidious care of his equipment. (I can imagine him tying his own flies.) To patiently standing for hours concentrating on the fly, the surface of the water, and the hypothetical fish.

The Hendrix Motel cards are geographical, one of Route 17, which goes through Roscoe.


The first three cards from Butternut Grove are different views of the campsite, including this one.

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

The next four all feature animals that can be found there.


In order, these are: a ten-pointer buck, a young white-tail buck, a red fox and an alarmed skunk. I have a feeling that On Kawara deliberately left the alarmed skunk until last. Portrait of the artist as an alarmed skunk that got up at 5.28 A.M. to go fishing?

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

This sudden focus on wildlife reminds me that On Kawara continuity/discontinuity begins with a page full of mystery. It was obviously chosen by On Kawara:

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

I take it to refer to the relatively slight change in DNA needed in order to shift from one creature to another.

But it also brings to mind On Kawara standing by the trout river that runs through Roscoe. Will he catch a fish? Is he almost as likely to catch a red fox? a ten-pointer buck? a startled skunk? A tortoise?

On the reverse side of the page is the following, subtly different illustration:

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

I imagine fishing on the bank, standing both close to - and far away from - On Kawara.


DMcL: "'Sameness between difference and sameness is different.' Does that apply to Date Paintings as well?"

OK: "Difference between sameness and difference is same."

DMcL: "But can you have it both ways?"

OK: "Look. I have caught a fish."

DMcL: "Oh, you mean me, don't you?"

Then I remember it's 1972, the year that
Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was released. And I listen to the song in my head as On and I fish in companionable silence:

"Ziggy played guitar, jamming good with Weird and Gilly,
The spiders from Mars. He played it left hand.
But made it too far,
Became the special man, then we were Ziggy's band."


I don't know if On Kawara went to Buttergrove Campsite in the summer of 1972 on his own or in company. In 1973, an I MET for September suggests he went to the campsite then with Hiroko, and with his friend from 97 Crosby Street, Hirotsugo Aoki, who he'd sent postcards to in 1970.

All of the cards sent in September 1972 to Dr Hultén in Stockholm were sent from 340 East 13th Street, New York.

1 340 8.50am
2 340 10.03am
3 340 3.38pm
4 340 9.50am
5 340 2.29pm
6 340 11.21am DP
7 340 6.44am

Why did On Kawara send 17 + 30 + 31 + 31 + 7 = 116 cards to Pontus Hultén? I suspect because Pontus had invited him to be artist-in-residence at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Certainly, OK flew to Stockholm before the 17th of December of 1972 and stayed until the end of January, 1973. So perhaps Hultén had seen one of the European showings of
One Million Years. Or maybe he had seen the show of Date Paintings at Konrad Fischer's Gallery in Germany. In any case, an enthusiastic letter of interest to On Kawara may have elicited the 116 postcard response. Why not?

Pontus Hultén is introduced by Hans Ulrich Obrist in
A Brief History of Curating.


No need to quote more. The book contains several long interviews with curators, including one with Pontus Holtén, which contains this revealing exchange:


I am so looking forward to On Kawara staying in Stockholm during December. But I already know that his stay there was for less than two months. 'Less than two months' does not amount to 'almost a year'. But I suppose getting nearly four-months worth of postcards could make it seem that way.

Let's get back to the Date Painting. Where had we got to?

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

Angela Davis was an is an African-American Marxist, philosopher, academic and author. She would have approved of the June 6 and June 26 goings-on in Stockholm and Costa Rica, and sympathised with the people of North Vietnam. Difference between sameness and difference is same.

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

Tourists in Hong Kong; chess players in Reykjavik; killings in Burundi. Time is thin around the cause and dense around the effect. I think that means we spend longer lamenting or celebrating the effects of things than analysing their causes.

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

Not much Date Painting in August. Let's imagine that On Kawara joined the UDA for the month, performing 24-hour guard duty in Protestant areas of Belfast. That is until the Olympics kicked off in Munich. Difference between sameness and difference is same.

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

It might as well have been IRA terrorists killing British athletes. Or the UDA firing on the Irish. Difference between sameness and difference is same? Tell that to the Norwegians. Tell that to Mao Tse-tung.

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

Difference between Henry Kissinger and Monday is Thursday.

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

Time is thin around the cause and dense around the effect. Let's bear that in mind as On Kawara flew from New York to Stockhom, to live as a guest of Dr Pontus Hultén, director of the Moderna Museet. What date did he fly? For that I would need unfettered access to I WENT and I MET for the first half of December. Which I don't have. Still, I have a certain amount of invaluable data.

Where did On Kawara stay? The address on his postcards is 'Torpedverkstan'. In the aerial photo below, that's marked as the building immediately flanking the sea at the bottom edge of the island. Stockholm is comprised of many islands, it's a much-fragmented city.


However, in the I WENT maps, OK marks his getting up place (red dot) as in a building in between 'Torpedverkstan' and the Moderna Museet.

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

Perhaps he had a flat as marked, and a studio in Torpedverkstan. In any case, his location was handy for a visit to the Moderna Museet. And On Kawara did take a stroll through the museum on December 16. As well as the permanent collection, there was an exhibition of watercolours by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880–1938). Water Colours and Drawings from the Franz Josef Kohl-Weigand Collection. A show that may - or may not - have floated OK's boat. After that he walked over the long bridge…


Past another gallery…


Up the side of some formal gardens and into a large department store. Nordiska Kompaniet, known colloquially as NK


I have stayed in Stockholm for a week, as the guest of artist Per Hüttner who I'd been collaborating with over a book about his work. He tells me that the post office is located in this building, something I can't confirm from looking at the Google pictures. Just goes to show the value of good local knowledge.

The next day, Kawara's route was much the same. Though he didn't go into Moderna Museet (well, he did go into one room, perhaps just to touch base with the director) and he walked past NK in order to go into a store in a nearby square.

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

I have one more I MET for December. On the 27th, On Kawara once more popped into see the director (at least he did in my mind's eye) but I'm not sure whether that would have been at the beginning or the end of his day's walking.

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

He went much the same way as before, went into NK again, then off in the other direction, as shown below.

As the above red-lined map isn't as clear as the others, here is one created with Google tools:


As far as I can judge, On Kawara went into what is now a shoe shop on Riddergarten. And why not? He was probably finding himself doing more walking in Stockholm than he was used to.


The next day he embarked on his first Swedish Date Painting.

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

His subtitles for the three paintings he did in December need to be reconsidered. (I did so briefly at the end of the previous page.)

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

"Jag vet inte," means 'I do not know' in Swedish. In the On Kawara literature, this has been interpreted as suggesting an existential crisis in the artist's life, harking back to his lack of comprehension as to what was happening when the atomic bombs fell on Japanese cities. It has also been linked to the series of black pages that On Kawara included in his Journal after having been moved whilst lying on his back and observing the Stockholm night sky. I imagine that taking in the immensity of the universe, a year or so after having produced One Million Years, would have underlined how tiny and unimportant we are as a species, never mind as an individual.

However, the black pages were included in the 1973 journal, not put together until the end of that year. At the end of 1972, On Kawara chose for his Journal a series of photographs he'd taken of the front doors he was familiar with in Manhattan. These are reproduced in the
SILENCE catalogue, and I recognise the doors of 340 East 13th Street, 97 Crosby Street, 65 East Broadway. There are also the doors of restaurants and a place offering photocopying services (useful if, day after day, one has been putting together One Million Years). In addition, I dare say 53 Greene Street is included, though I have still to check that out.

Also arguing against an existential crisis while in Stockholm is the fact that subtitling the Date Paintings with the days of the week, and not using a quote from a local newspaper, began before he flew to Sweden. It began with 30 October, 1972, and continued with 23 November, 1972, when On Kawara was still in New York.

The 'I do not know' may simply be a reference to his difficulty with the Swedish language. On Kawara had had years living in a Spanish-speaking country, and years in an English-speaking country, to enable him to pick up those languages, and add them to his native Japanese. He didn't have the same opportunity with Swedish, and he may have understood as little of the page lining the box of 29 December, 1972, as I do:


On Kawara continued to produce his 'I READ' volumes. And he continued to line his Date Painting boxes with an extract from the day's newspaper. So in that sense he didn't give up on reading the news. He just abandoned the idea of picking out a headline and using that as a subtitle. Perhaps he was coming to accept the importance of a weekly rhythm to his life. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, is a sequence of words redolent with meaning for all of us.

I am going to go straight on to 1973 shortly. As On Kawara is only half way through his time in Stockholm, I will start a new page for that. But first I will end this page with a typical piece of On Kawara generosity. The Date Painting below was given to his friend, Pontus Hultén, and it can now be seen in the Moderna Museet as it is currently on display there. I suspect the old museum director would be very pleased about that, as it epitomised what he was trying to do through his stewardship of the collection, and his friendship with contemporary artists.

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

Next time I am in Stockholm I hope that Per Hüttner and I will be able to make a bee-line for it and to see it together. What a lot there will be to talk about! 1972 meets 2002 meets 2022.

50 - 20 = 30

Sameness between difference and sameness is different.

20 + 30 = 50

Difference between sameness and difference is same.


Next page.