- January to December: 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 1, 2, 3, 3, 2, 8, 11. Total 40 Date Paintings.
- Akito 18 in April. Sahe 17 in December.
- Significant periods of Date Painting: none. In fact, there were only 11 Date Paintings made in the first six months of the year, the same number as in December alone. By far the least of any six-month period since the beginning of the "Today" series in 1966. And October to December of 1995 had also just produced a total of six paintings at a rate two per month. So what was On Kawara doing with his time? He was putting together the retrospective exhibition and massive book, 'Whole and Parts'


Just as On Kawara had pulled up a drawbridge when he stopped doing 'I GOT UP', 'I WENT' and 'I MET' in 1979, so that one no longer knew exactly where the artist was or who he was meeting on any day, so a second drawbridge was raised at the end of 1995. That is, On stopped adding a page or pages to his 'I READ" file every time he made a Date Painting. This had been telling the world where On Kawara was, or at least what city he was in. Now that information was no longer going to be made available

However, there is another source of information which, when correctly decoded, at least tells us in what country On Kawara was residing when he painted his Dates post-1995. This is two dense lists of Dates that are included in the book,
Date Painting in New York and 136 Other Cities, published in 2012. The lists don't look particularly forthcoming. Here is a scan of the second of them, the Dates painted in 'Other Cities'.


It is a chronological list of non-New York Dates. If you look roughly in the middle of the line thirteen up from the bottom, you will see that only one Date was made away from New York in 1996. 17. JULI 1996.

In Japan (Esperanto) that would have been 17 JUL. 1996. In France (French) it would have been 17 JUIL. 1996. In other words, On Kawara had been in Germany when he Date Painted on 17th of July. (Whereabouts in Germany? Ah, you've got me there. Dusseldorf or Berlin or Stuttgart or Cologne or Frankfurt.)

So it's the other list, Date Paintings in New York in which the other 39 Dates must appear. And so they do. The list tells us that On Kawara was in New York from
JAN. 1, 1996 to JUNE 17, 1996. And from JULY 27, 1996 to DEC.31, 1996. The longest that On Kawara could have been in Europe was from June 18 to July 26. And in that time, when he may have been in several parts of France and Germany, he only Date Painted the once.

A New York year, then. Though I expect the month in summer was based in Paris and involved a trip to the south of France where 'Whole and Parts' was going to be shown. Let me spell that out. The show 'On Kawara: Whole and Parts 1964 - 1995' opened in November 1996 at the Nouveau Musee, Villeurbanne, France. In 1997 it would move on to Castello di Rivoli, Turin, and Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona. The fourth venue on the tour would be Musée d'Art Moderne, Villeneuve d'Ascq, France, and the fifth would be the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, but not until 1998.

The organisation that published the huge 'Whole and Parts' book was
Les Presses du Réel based in Dijon, an independent publishing house run by Franck Gautherot and Xavier Douroux. As I say, I expect On Kawara paid them a visit in June-July of 1996, supplying them with the originals of images that would appear in the book, before or after going to Germany to pay his respects to a dear, old friend. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.


On Kawara began the year in New York. He made two Date Paintings in January, and then on February 3 met up with Linda Weintraub, journalist and arts writer, who has contributed to Karlyn de Jongh's
Unanswered Questions for On Kawara. In this the journalist makes it clear how difficult it was to be granted an interview with the artist, though she eventually got one through persistence. How On Kawara asked her not to make any notes, but just to listen. Thsi is how Linda Weintraub recalls the interview: 'Throughout, Kawara delivered a non-stop, coolly-delivered, brilliantly-articulated oration on profound truths of time and place and the universe for an audience of one….just me! It was a rare experience, and a supreme privilege. He demonstrated why reminders that On Kawara was alive mattered so much more than an ordinary person’s life-record. His ‘being’ qualified them as fine art.'

Do I, Duncan McLaren, wish I'd been granted such an interview?
Gulp. "Why not!"

On Kawara made two Date Paintings in February, which was also when Yvon Lambert, Kawara's Parisian gallery, produced a box of Codes for him. The main work in it, 'Six Codes of Time', was written by Jacques Roubaud. On Kawara's contribution was to translate (or, rather, to have translated) the 50-odd poem/pages into braille. He also contributed a code from 1965, Love Letters and from 1969, Eight Quintillion. On Kawara had always been fascinated by codes and languages. The whole Date Painting project could be said to concern both.

On Kawara made two Dates in March and two in April. It would have been in the middle of April that he phoned Ben Kinmont, who had organised 'The Materialization of Art into Alternative Economies' at Printed Matter in New York City. The reason for Kawara's call to Kinmont was to ask permission to use a sentence that appeared in the gutter of the 25-page catalogue of the group show in what would become the 700-page catalogue of On's solo show and book, 'Whole and Parts'. The sentence, which was printed at right-angles to the main text, read: ‘It’s always while looking at the part that the whole seems to be moving.’ The permission requested was given. And Ben Kinmont's paragraph about this correspondence in the tribute section of the Phaidon monograph about On Kawara of 2002 makes it clear that there was mutual respect between the pair.

The exchange also makes it clear that what On Kawara was doing at this time was putting together this huge catalogue about his own work (as a whole and in parts) that would have involved him making a large number of decisions. It would also have involved him in a lot of work bringing things together for the exhibition 'WHOLE AND PARTS'. I think this explains why he did so little Date Painting from January to October inclusive. Then the 'Whole and Parts' exhibition opened in a city in the south of France, in November. I suspect the massive catalogue would have been available from then also.

The book is split into three sections. 'WORKS 1964-1995'; 'TEXTS 1970 - 1995'; and 'EXHIBITIONS 1970 - 1995'. I'll talk a little about each of the three sections as a way of writing about the majority of On Kawara's 1996, before coming back to a more nearly truly chronological approach to November and December of the year.


The first section alone covers more than 300 pages, and begins with two sequences of photos recording the painting of a Date. That's
6 AUG.1992, painted in Tokyo, recorded over 36 pages. And 20 FEV. 1993, painted in Paris, also recorded over 36 pages. Why these two in particular? Well, I think these are the artist's two studios apart from New York, which had already been documented in the book by Henning Weidemann JUNE 9,1991.

After that, there is some pre-1966 work. 8 pages of
Codes, I think from 1965 and 1969; 21 pages of Drawings that were included in the cardboard box Kawara made to enclose the sketches he made in Paris and New York in 1964; and the significant paintings Location and Title from 1965.

Next comes the 'Today' series. First a reproduction of
JANUARY 25, 1966, which is the tenth Date Painting he made during that first month. There then follows ten pages of photographs On Kawara took in his studio at the end of 1966, which document (in an utterly compelling way) what he achieved in that first year of Date Painting, before they were given bespoke cardboard boxes and stored away. Then the Date Paintings are represented from 1967 to 1995, one per year, making 29 in all, in conjunction with a corresponding page from 'I READ'.

This is not quite the same as displaying Date Paintings with the newspaper cutting fitted into each Date Painting's cardboard box, after all that had been done throughout the
Date Painting in 89 Cities book which had been published three years before. Instead, you get the following.

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

The '170 B (5)' info is taken from the Journal. In other words this page of 'I READ' corresponded to the Date Painting for NOV.6 1967, being the 170th of the year, the fifth completed in the month of November, size B.

From 1967 to the end of 1972, the majority of subtitles were taken from 'I READ' (rather than the extract from the newspaper placed in the Date Painting's box). On this occasion, NOV.6, 1967, On Kawara took the beginning of the story in column one and appended the beginning of the story in column 4, giving him: 'Communist China hailed today the 50th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution but asserted that the 'center of world revolution' had shifted from Moscow to Peking and in the United States, LeRoi Jones, Negro playwright, was found guilty of illegally possessing weapons during the Newark riots in July.'

Notice that On Kawara wrote with a red ballpoint the date of issue of the paper, which was the day after the Date Painting. If you'd spent all day painting
NOV.6,1967 and you want ed to know what happened while you were in the studio that day, it was the paper for the 7th of November that you needed to read. Thus for each Date Painting, On Kawara required to buy two newspapers. The one on the day itself, so that he could take an extract from it, bearing the date of the Date Painting, and place it in the box with the painting. And the next day's paper which he would read, to find out what had happened in the world as he'd been painting the date, and to come up with a sub-title for the day's Date Painting.

Two of the days that On Kawara selected in this section are blank. On Kawara read nothing about
2 JAN.1971. This was on his first return visit to the Japan that he had left years before. And so the sub-title of the day was simply the day "2 JAN.1971"

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

21 July 1989 got the same treatment. What did On Kawara have against Japanese newspapers? Perhaps he blamed them for Japanese imperialist values which had caused the nation to go to war with the United States in his childhood.

A third 'I READ' corresponds with a Date Painting made in Japan in this section. It's on the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

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

By pointing my phone at this text, I'm told that the headlines say'JAPAN 100 factory inspection' target along the top. Then 'Chemical Weapons Convention, general agreement' down the right side. 'Strict control of dyes and pesticides' is mentioned. So perhaps that is all speaking of progress of sorts.

Another reason why On Kawara would have chosen to display a Date Painting from each year, 1967 to 1995, with the 'corresponding 'I READ' page, was that - as already mentioned - he stopped doing 'I READ' after 1995. The following is the one he chose to represent the final year, 1995, when he was in Reykjavik. Does that imply he could read Icelandic? Perhaps he got someone to translate these bits of the paper for him. Or maybe Icelandic was close enough to Swedish for ~On to catch the drift of the articles. That plus the real names such as Saddam Hussein.

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

The next section of 'WORKS' to be represented in Whole and Parts was 'I WENT'. For this, On selected 22 maps. 2 for 1968, 3 for 1969, 1 for 1970, 1 for 1971, 1 for 1972, 6 for 1973, 3 for 1974 and 1 each for 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979. Why a few more for 1973? Well, that was a travelling year, from Stockholm, through Europe, and down the west coast of Africa. And after that a road-trip across America. 100 maps would not have done justice to On Kawara's travelling in 1973. Incidentally, they were not the same maps that had been reproduced in On Kawara: One Year's Production. The artist was probably taking into account that these had already been published.

The next section is headed '18 PARIS IV.70'. A page of text explaining the set-up for an exhibition is followed by the three telegrams that On Kawara made for it, beginning with 'I AM NOT GOING TO COMMIT SUICIDE DON'T WORRY'. That leads straight into 'I GOT UP 1971', being 15 pages of postcards to Roger Mazarguil, the Frenchman who ran a restaurant in Paris called 'Georges'. That is followed by an 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegram for each year from 1970 to 1995, 26 in all. But why not lead straight from the telegrams to the Paris gallery in 1970 into the 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams? Why put the 'I GOT UP AT' batch of postcards in between? True, the initial telegrams were sent on December 5, 8 and 11, 1970. And it was only on January 20 of 1971 that the first 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegram was sent to Herbert and Dorothy Vogel. That's a gap of about a month. So perhaps On Kawara wanted to commemorate that gap with a batch of postcards. And why not make it postcards to Roger, his restaurant perhaps being one of the reasons that On had chosen to buy a flat in Paris.

This is followed by 'I MET'. The choice being a page per day for the whole of July, 1968. This doesn't give much away. On was in Mexico at the time. No Hiroko, No Kasper, no New York friends. No art world people. A safe choice? Either that, or I just haven't spotted what makes it special. Could it be the presence of the six member of the Hashimoto family, and Takashi Hashimoto in particular?

This is followed by a 100-Year-Calendar which goes over a double-page spread. It's called
18,864 Days and was completed up to August 16, 1984. On Kawara usually stated the number of days that he'd lived up until the opening of show and he had two shows in 1974, one in Antwerp and one in Tokyo, so perhaps this calendar appeared in one of them.

Next comes
One Million Years Past. The cover of the first volume is reproduced, as are three opening title pages, then pages 1; 100 and 101; 300 and 301; 500 and 501; and so on until 1900 and 1901, which is followed by a final page of 2001. 22 pages in all to cover 1,000,000 years. An 11,000 year sample. One Million Years Future is rendered in exactly the same way. A 26-page section in all.

So there you have it, the first section of 'WHOLE AND PARTS'. 'WORKS'. A part-objective, part-subjective, totally original way of presenting On Kawara's art from 1964 to 1995.


Moving on to the second part of
Whole and Parts, that is 'TEXTS: 1970 to 1995'. These can be summarised as in the table below. It should be noted that each text is reproduced in the language it was first written in. I've put those texts that can be read in English (either because they're written in English or can be found in translation in another book), in red.


Note the 'Japanese' column. These are not available in translation. This decision meant that when On Kawara: Whole and Parts was published, the artist was keeping apart his English-speaking and European audience, which had been growing since the sixties, and his Japanese audience, which had (with one notable exception) only begun when he'd started to spend part of his life in Japan from the beginning of the eighties.

However, a smart phone will give a rough translation of these Japanese texts, and so I have been able to gain an impression of their tone and content. It is perhaps an obvious thing that the Japanese would approach On Kawara in a different way to Westerners. With more warmth, because On Kawara was a fellow-countryman. With more admiration, for the same reason. And with more curiosity. He was one of the family, after all.

I shouldn't try and make too much of this. The list of 11 Japanese texts does contain a lot of art criticism closely related to what had been written by English and European art critics. But the list of 11 also contains two texts that are decidedly personal in their approach. These I want to investigate further and will do so in the 'GAME ON' section of this website.

In this chapter, I want to emphasise the logic in On Kawara's approach of reproducing the various texts in the language that they were written in. Because isn't this how the Date Paintings are shown? That is, in the language of the country that they were painted in. This applies to English, French, Italian and German, however it doesn't apply to the non-Roman languages such as Arabic or, more pertinently, Japanese. On Kawara used Esperanto when he was making a Date Painting in Japan. That too I will return to in the 'GAME ON' chapter that I intend to call WHOLE AND PARTS.


The third and last section of the W&P tome is called 'EXHIBITIONS: 1970 - 1995'. As in the first section ('WORKS'), On Kawara does not use words to describe the exhibitions, just photos with minimal captions. The texts of section two are there if a reader wants a variety of other people's opinions on On Kawara's work, whether individual creations or museum-curated exhibitions. I say 'museum-curated'. but since about 1990, On Kawara's 'work' has become the curation of his earlier work (plus his ongoing Date Paintings).

The book as a whole is indeed divided into three parts. Works, Texts and Exhibitions. But these could be called 'The Artist's Individual Works', 'Other People's Words About the Works' and 'Curations of the Artist's Works. At First Done By Other People, But More Recently Done By The Artist Himself'.


In short, I suspect it was the show 'Whole and Parts', and the accompanying catalogue, that took up most of On Kawara's time in 1996. The show opened on November 8 of that year. On Kawara made 8 Date paintings in November and 11 in December. It could be that the spurt of painting in November was set off by the approaching death of Konrad Fischer. Kawara painted on November 1…


I don't know who that was painted for. But the next Date, NOV.3, was one of four paintings that Dorothee Fischer passed on to the Konrad and Dorothee Fischer Archive on her death, Konrad's death having preceded hers by many years.


I don't know what inspired the painting of the remainder of November's paintings, those on NOV. 13, 17, 22, 23, 24 and 26. But Konrad Fischer died (of cancer) on November 24, 1996, and if On Kawara knew that his gallerist friend and supporter was dying then it may have influenced his day-to-day activity at this time.

And December's Dates? These were DEC.1, 3, 4, 8, 12, 12, 18, 18, 24, 30, 31. Eleven Dates, as already mentioned. Why were they painted? Where did they end up? By the time Candida Hofer was taking photos of On Kawara Date Paintings for her 2009 volume,
DEC.4, 1996 was in a private collection in Frankfurt. The two DEC. 12 Dates were in a private collection in Brussels, and DEC. 30 was hanging in a private collection in Geneva. Here is the latter:


In 1997, there was an exhibition of Date Paintings from 1995 and 1996 in the Max Hetzler Gallery in Berlin. That's the two black paintings from DEC.12, 1996 that one can see in the installation shot


There was also a show of On Kawara at Konrad Fischer Gallery in Dusseldorf, even though the gallery owner had died by then. So it would seem that On Kawara, either for contractual reasons or for sentimental ones, was largely painting in November and December of 1996 to satisfy his German associates.

I will end this short chapter by making reference to the only Date Painting made outside New York in the year. That's to say 17. JULI, 1996. Painted in Germany. For Konrad Fischer? It was a few months before Konrad's death and it's easy to envisage On Kawara visiting him one last time, and perhaps painting the date out of homage.

Let me end this too short chapter by quoting part of
On Kawara: CODES that was published in February of 1996 by Yvon Lambert. This is an English translation of a poem (there were about 50 interconnected poems in all) by the Frenchman that Kawara collaborated with, Jacques Roubaud.


it was time, it was time, it was time, it was time, it was time, it was time,

and it was time, and it was time, and it was time, and it was time, was time, time

because it was time, it was time, it was time, it was time, it was time, it was time

who was the time, who was the time, who was the time who was the time, was the time, the time

which will have been the time, which will have been the time, which will have been the time, which will have been the time, been the time, the time

and ceased to be time, and ceased to be time, and ceased to be time, and ceased to be time, to be time, time

of his life,

his life,


On Kawara's contribution to this particular 'code' called 'SIX CODES of Time' was to instruct that the text be turned into braille, a set of raised dots on the high-quality paper. No doubt the blind of Paris remain grateful to On Kawara to this day.

But let's not stop there. There was this poem also, rendered unto braille:

What time said

this that made this that made that that that made that made this

does not stop

but will have been this and this and this

will have been this and this

not this

and this which is no longer this which is no longer this

nor that which makes this was only that

was not


between my fingers ceases between my fingers which cease

to be this this which will cease


will have ceased

and that

Which show the poem ends. I've just realised that the following would be the very best one to finish with. With (dear reader) dear Konrad Fischer in mind:

the climacteric year

the moment

to begin to prepare to prepare to prepare to decide to force oneself to oblige oneself to

force oneself to force oneself to subject oneself to struggle to strive to begin to attach oneself to

apply oneself to strive to urge oneself to train oneself to strive to

inclined to have fun

to play to be entertained to be distracted to be pleased to be distracted to commit to start again

to start dreaming again to think about to think about to think about to get used to getting used to

to persist in persisting in persisting in

to manage to come to continue to

persevere in letting oneself go to resign oneself to consent to lower oneself to resolve to abandon oneself to

to tire out to exhaust oneself to wear out to exhaust oneself to be exhausted to succeed in being ready to

be able to admit foresee contemplate wait decide see

his death

Damn it, I'm going to have to use four of the last five poems. The poem/pages above are the ante-penultimate, the fifth last and the penultimate. Next is the last poem, the last brailled page. I suspect it is On Kawara's voice we can hear, translated back from the braille of course, into the words of
Jacques Roubaud:

After so many years

Sometimes, after so many years, I ask myself
Going down, up the street, I ask myself

Closing the shutters, the sky low, I ask myself
In the grass, the book turned over, lines against the ground, I ask myself

Between the landing and the step, I ask myself
Stopping talking, I ask myself

With incomprehension, I ask myself
Separated, I ask myself

In front of the egg, the broken egg, I ask myself

After so many years,

Why egg though? The word 'ego' or 'oeuvre' would have suited me better. Perhaps the correct word got lost in de-translation.