The 1980s


This is a different kind of essay. It covers a million and ten years instead of one. How's that for a change of pace?

When on September 18, 1979, On Kawara stopped his three daily series, he pulled down the shutters (as Jonathan Watkins puts it in a 2016 essay). No postcards with their getting up time would be available from this day. No 'I MET' lists, and no 'I WENT' maps either.

There is a second loss which is also significant. The book
On Kawara continuity/discontinuity 1963 -1979, reproduced the artist's Journals from 1966 to 1979. These Journals continued to be produced, but they have not been disclosed to the world. The information these provide is as follows:

- The day on which a Date was painted.
- It's size and colour
- The city or place in which it was made.

It's this info, combined with the daily self-observation series, that has been providing this biographer with his essential material. Without it, what is this humble researcher left with? Well, there are the 100-Year Calendars. The one for the 20th Century tells me day-by-day, whether a Date Painting was made or not. So for 1980 the following were DP days:

JAN. 5, 8, 14, 25
FEB. 9, 19
MAR. 7, 11
APR. 1, 3, 6, 11, 16, 17, 23, 30
MAY 7, 12, 28, 31
JUNE 20, 23
JULY 4, 5, 6, 24
AUG. 6,10, 29
SEPT.19, 23
OCT. 9, 11
NOV. 10, 16
DEC. 9, 10, 13, 21, 28

On the face of it, that doesn't tell me enough to be going on with. True, I could scrape around for additional information. Here is one such scrap:

Candida Höfer, 2004. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.

That painting belongs to Johann König, who was born in 1981. The photo was taken by Candida Höfer in Berlin in 2004. I am intrigued by the atmosphere and ambiguity of the image. It seems to me that the Date Painting is hanging in an office that is no longer used (the radiator control knob stands on the window sill; a computer monitor is lying on the floor; an old FAX machine is stuffed into the shelf under the table). Although it is being used as a place to store two sizes of bubble-wrapped packages (the smaller size is too small to hold a Date Painting) prior to their despatch in envelopes. I have written to Johann König asking him about the image but have received no answer. Just as my attempts to communicate with Kasper König have elicited no response.

I can understand why the König family, like the Kawara family, don't want to answer any questions. That would be too easy. Besides, the inside track on On Kawara's life can wait awhile. By and large, my project has no choice but to use On Kawara's publicly presented art, along with the books that have already been published on the artist. So let me do that, systematically drawing on the diverse sources that are available to this weary (yet indefatigable!) researcher.

- January-December: 4, 2, 2, 8, 4, 2, 4, 3, 2, 2, 2, 5. Total 40 Date Paintings in the year.
- Akito aged 2 in April. Sahe (On and Hiroko's daughter) aged 1 in December.
- Significant Date Painting: three days in a row in July.

Date Paintings in 89 Cities, published in 1992, does not have any reproductions of Date Paintings from 1980. Which suggests that On Kawara didn't travel to any new cities that year. Date Paintings in New York and 136 Other Cities, published in 2012, reproduces Dec. 10, 1980. But before you get too excited, the book reproduces one painting per year of those that were made in New York, which that one was. There are no reproductions resulting from travel to other cities. Which suggests that On Kawara either remained in New York for the duration of 1980, or only travelled to cities he'd already made Date Paintings in.

As far as this goes, I have another tool at my disposal. That is, the format of each Date Painting. Those made in New York (or the rest of America, plus Canada and the UK) have the letters of the month positioned before the day of the month. Whereas paintings made in Europe or Japan, and most other places, start with the day of the month before the month itself in letters. Having gone through all
my books, the Date Paintings from 1980 that I've seen are as follows:

JAN.5,1980; JAN.25,1980; FEB.19,1980; APR.1,1980; APR.17,1980; APR.23,1980; MAY7,1980; JUL.6,1980; AUG.6,1980; OCT.11,1980; NOV.10,1980; DEC.10,1980; DEC.21,1980

Not a single one in the European or Japanese format. Size of sample: 13 from 40. Statistically significant? I should think so, though it stops short of proving On Kawara didn't shift from New York all year.

But if he was in the Big Apple throughout 1980, what was he doing? Keeping an eye on Akito's and Sahe's development, perhaps. Contributing to their upbringing, no doubt. And creating
One Million Years (Future). This book would be dedicated: 'For The Last One', just as Million Years Past, made in 1970, had been dedicated 'FOR ALL THOSE WHO HAVE LIVED AND DIED'. And although Akito and Sahe can be thought of as 'The New Ones' or 'The Next Ones', we can still see why their coming along might prompt On to have thoughts about humanity's long-term future. Also, no longer having his three daily self-observation series to keep him occupied, we can see this would be the ideal opportunity to devote himself to the time-consuming task of typing, pasting and copying the thousands of pages that the project would consist of.

One Million Years (Future) starts with a short page, containing twenty years, starting with 1981:

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

This sets things up, so that page 2 begins with a 1 (albeit 2001) and allows the artist to set out a page which can be used as a pro forma for further pages. As with Million Years Past, the artist wanted to keep his overall work to a minimum, which meant restricting his typing of whole pages. Here is page 2:

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

There are 500 years on that page, in 5 blocks of ten by ten. To create page 3, the artist only has to replace 10 of the 60 characters in the top line. That goes for the whole of block one. Indeed it goes for the whole of the five blocks. All On Kawara needed to do was stick a vertical line of new numbers (probably cut from a photocopy sheet of page 2) and paste that on top of the second column of old numbers. He had to do that for ten columns on the page altogether. He would very carefully position and paste the new numbers, so that when he photocopied the amended sheet it looked perfect. (Needless to say, this is before the coming of personal computers, which would make this task somewhat easier. Not easy, but easier.)

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

And so On Kawara would go from one page to the next, thinking of the easiest and most systematic way of producing the next finished page. Without doing the thing myself, I can't really say how much work of various kinds was involved, and so I don't know how many pages he would manage to do in a working day in 1980. When I was writing about
Million Years Past, I suggested he might be doing 20 pages a day in the second half of 1970, though that was a guess. Creating 20 pages day, would be covering 10,000 years, so he would need 100 such working days to finish his million year project.

Those pages reproduced above were taken from the Ikon's 2002 catalogue
On Kawara: Consciousness, Meditation, Watcher on the Hills. The following are taken from 10 Tableaux and 16952 Pages, where the reproductions are of a higher quality.

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

As you can see, we are up to page 1000 in the work. That is the last page in the fifth volume (of ten volumes in all). The artist is still getting 500 years per page, and there is not that much less space between figures, so he must be using smaller figures by this stage of the work. 1000 x 500 = 500,000. However, 501,500, the number in the bottom right corner of the above page, is correct, because page 1 effectively doesn't count towards the 500s, and page 2 effectively started at 2,000. Giving an extra 1,500 to add to the 500,000.

That's enough of that, you may be thinking. I'm thinking it's On Kawara at his most precise, rigorous, logical, determined and profound. I trust that he bought his own photocopier for
Million Years Future. I believe he used a copy service the first time around, but surely he could now afford to take charge of the whole process.

So that's how On Kawara kept himself busy in 1980.

- January-December: 2, 2, 4, 4, 5, 2, 4, 4, 6, 5, 6, 2. Total 46 Date Paintings.
- Akito aged 3 in April. Sahe aged 2 in December.
- Significant Date Painting: three days in a row, twice in the year (End of April/beginning of May and in July).

Date Paintings from 89 Cities reproduces Aug 3, 1981, painted in North East Margaree, which is a village. While Date Paintings from 136 countries reproduces Aug.1 1981, also from Margaree. The 100-Year-Calendar tells us that there were four paintings made in 6 days, so that was one of the most productive spells of Date Painting in the year.

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

In the wilderness, it may not always have been possible to source a newspaper.

It's also true to say that On Kawara would have been fishing while in Margaree. He wouldn't have gone to Nova Scotia and not fished for salmon, even though he and Hiroko had two infant children in tow. Though clearly Ansell Bray either didn't know about the trip (when we were discussing such things in the summer of 2021) or has forgotten about it.

- January-December: 9, 8, 2, 2, 3, 1, 3, 2, 3, 3, 2, 3. Total 41
- Akito aged 4 in April. Sahe aged 3 in December.
- Significant Date Painting: three days in a row in January.
- Size H paintings on Oct. 27 and Nov. 18

The only Date Painting to be reproduced in either
89 Cities or 136 Cities, appearing in both, is this from Karija (Kariya, Japan). Note that the number of the day comes before the characters representing the month.

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

Now Kariya is a town in Japan in which the Kawahara family had a home. This is consistent with what Ansell Bray told me: that for the sake of the children, the Kawaras began to spend their summers in Japan rather than Nova Scotia. Obviously the grandparents, the Kawaharas and the Hiraokas, would have played a role in the life of Akito and Sahe.

There is also a June Date Painting, reproduced in the
SILENCE catalogue that has the day of the month before the month itself: 9 JUNE, 1982. The list of plates tells us it was made in Tokyo. This is also consistent with On Kawara spending his summers in Japan.

However, in 1982, On did produce two size H paintings, the first on October 27 and the second on November 18, both made in New York. Will I ever find out why he made this special effort at this particular stage in his life? I am not too confident that I will. But just as the three size 'H' paintings made in October/November 1978 may have been in response to the three moon landing Date Paintings of July 1969 ("Look, Hiroko, I can still do it!"), so the two size 'H' paintings made in Oct/Nov 1982 could have been in response to the two surviving size 'H' paintings made in Oct/Nov 1978. 'Look, Hiroko, these four will look great together one day."

- January-December: 3, 4, 4, 7, 2, 2, 2, 1, 3, 2, 6, 7. Total 44.
- Akito aged 5 in April. Sahe aged 4 in December.
- Significant periods of Date Painting: three days in a row in April.

89 Cities nor 136 Cities includes a reproduction of a 1983 Date Painting. Which again means that if On Kawara did do a Date Painting in a city or place other than New York that year, it was a city that he had made a Date Painting in previously.

It is obvious by this time that On made sure than he made at least one Date Painting every month. Indeed, that may have been a resolution that was in place from the very start of the 'Today' project in 1966.

SILENCE does have a reproduction of 24.MAJ,1983. That was made in Tokyo.

- January-December: 4, 2, 2, 3, 1, 3, 3, 2, 4, 10, 4, 4. Total 42.
- Akito aged 6 in April. Sahe aged 5 in December.
- Significant periods of Date Painting: eight days in a row from October 7 to October 14
- Size H paintings: on April 22 and September 8

The size H paintings made on April 22 and September 8 were the last ones On ever did except one. The timing suggests one may have been made before going off to Japan for the summer, and the other after getting back from there. But that's speculative.

Did On travel to Japan that summer? The additional evidence that he did, is the format
15JULY,1984 which is reproduced in Candida Höfer's book. Again the day in the month coming before the month means that it wasn't painted in New York (or anywhere in the one-time British Empire) but from somewhere else in the world, in On Kawara's case usually Japan, Germany, or somewhere else in Europe. Also, 6 JULY,1984 is reproduced in I LOVE ART 2. More significantly, the Dia Art Foundation had a show with a painting dated 4 AŭG 1984, which is the Esperanto abbreviation for August. And On Kawara, 1976 Berlin 1986 has a reproduction of 12 AŭG 1984, which further suggests that On Kawara was in Japan for the summer of 1984. Of course he was.

The eight paintings in a row made in October were done in his New York studio.

I will endeavour to come back to these Date Painterly flourishes (the size H paintings and the eight from October). In the meantime, here is the DP reproduced in both
89 Cities and 136 Cities. It was made in Brussels. And although On Kawara had visited Brussels alone in 1977, he hadn't been Date Painting on that earlier trip.

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


- January-December: 3, 4, 2, 2, 6, 10, 2, 3, 2, 3, 4, 3. Total 44.
- Akito aged 7 in April. Sahe aged 6 in December.
- Date Painting nine days in a row in June.

Again On Kawara was in Japan in the summer. A painting
17JUL.1985 is reproduced in On Kawara, published by Museum for Modern Art, Frankfurt in 1991. The list of plates tells us that the work was made in Tokyo. The DP reproduced in both Cities books is the following one, made in Lyon.

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

What with the previous year's DP being made in Brussels, it's possible that by this time the Kawaras had bought a flat in Paris. Certainly, they had a flat in Paris by the time Jonathan Watkins knew the Kawaras in the late 1990s. So let's bear that in mind, although I think the purchase of the Paris flat came later and will keep my antennae out for that.

- January-December: 3, 2, 2, 9, 1, 2, 3, 1, 3, 4, 3, 6. Total 39 Date Paintings.
- Akito aged 8 in April. Sahe aged 7 in December.
Date Painting four days in a row in December.

There are no repros in either of the
89/136 Cities books, but I do have a few other sources of information for this year.

This next image is in the archive of Max Hetzler Gallery in Cologne. This gallery had shown two paintings of On Kawara in 1985 and would exhibit a third show in 1990, of which more later. This was the Max Hetzler Gallery's second show of On Kawara paintings:

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation and with the forbearance, I hope, of Max Hetzler Gallery.

Given that this show took place in 1987, it displays the well-known pattern of On Kawara keeping the paintings for his own purposes until the next calendar year.

Another source of information (and a change of tack). Writing in American Entomologist in 2007, the adult Akito Kawahara says this:

'If it were not for my father's childhood experiences and the availability of Japanese entomological supplies, I am fairly certain that I would not be writing this article today. The day that helped direct my career path as an entomologist came when my father walked into a Japanese department store and accidentally came upon insect collecting equipment. He bought a net for me that day, as the equipment in the store brought back memories of his childhood experience rearing the papilionid butterfly, Luehdorfia japonica Leech. I was immediately captivated by the net, became fascinated with collecting, and collected anything that moved.'

Actually, that paragraph is not dated to a year. Another one effectively is:

'When I was a child attending elementary school in Tokyo, my father bought this book ('A collecting Map of Butterflies'). During the summer, we took a three- to four-hour train ride at 4.00a.m. every Sunday to look for a particular species included in this butterfly treasure map. On one occasion, we went to look for Favonius yuasai Shirozu, a relatively rare lycaenid which flies in the canopy. When we arrived at the locality, I was shocked to discover over ten lepidopterists with their 30-foot extension poles lined up against a forest just before dawn. The scene reminded me of a line of trout fishermen along a stream in upstate New York. The lepidopterists were staring into the canopy waiting for the morning flight of the drab brown lycaenid. I was the luckiest eight-year-old that day, because while the collectors were diligently looking into the canopy, a female F. Yuasai landed on a low branch a few steps in front of me. It started raining heavily a few minutes later, and I may have been the only one that day to have collected the butterfly.'

Clearly, a treasured memory. It was in order to deliver this quality of life to his son that On Kawara had cut back on his own compulsive activities. Not even for a red letter day such as this did On Kawara stamp out another postcard, 'I GOT UP AT 3.30 A.M.', and send it to Dan Graham, Kasper K
önig, Hirotsugu Aoki, Jean Pfaff, or whoever.

The spurt of Date Painting at the beginning of December I do know about. It coincided with a trip to Berlin to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of his residency there. On was invited back for a few weeks, and in this time he made six Date Paintings which were part of the show that was at Daad Galerie in Berlin from 17 January to 8 February, 1987. That means they were exhibited shortly after being painted. However, the fact that the exhibition was in 1987 as opposed to 1986 may have been enough 'distance' for the artist.

Courtesy of Daad Foundation

As you can just about see, the six paintings made in Berlin were shown in a room with 'I MET', 'I WENT' and 'I READ', all from 1976/77. And elsewhere in the show were displayed the hundreds of postcards that had been successfully called back from the 1976/77 Berlin residency. It may have been a strange experience for the artist, at the end of eight relatively barren years being reminded of a time when he had been so productive. But how can I say that when On was the proud father of a budding entomologist?

I imagine On would have taken advantage of being in Germany to visit Kasper König who had been professor of art at Dusseldorf Art Academy since 1985, but I don't know that.


- January-December: 3, 2, 1, 9, 5, 1, 2, 1, 2, 2, 4, 3. Total 35 +1 .
- Akito aged 9 in April. Sahe aged 8 in December.
- Significant periods of Date Painting: seven days in a row in April.
- Size H painting made on May 1.

In Candida Höfer's book, there is a reproduction of 21JULY,1987. The painting is photographed as part of the Merry Collection in Nagoya, and presumably, given the time of year and the format, it was painted in Japan.

I wonder what inspired the making of the seven paintings on consecutive days in April (from 5th to 12th). And the last ever size H painting made on May 1. Spurts of activity before going to Japan for the summer?

You, dear reader, may be getting concerned about the state of my ignorance concerning On Kawara's activities. Don't worry, 1989 is on the horizon. All comes good then.


- January-December: 3, 3, 4, 6, 6, 2, 2, 2, 2, 4, 5, 2. Total 41 + 1
- Akito aged 10 in April. Sahe aged 9 in December.
- Significant periods of Date Painting: three days in a row at end of March and beginning of April.

This painting, see below, is the only one for the year reproduced in 89 Cities. It was made in Sapporo, Japan.

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

Apparently, Akito attended school in Tokyo and New York simultaneously. I don't know how he managed this, but later he went to American Universities before becoming Professor of Entomology at Florida University. And I think this is the place for another anecdote from Ansell Bray. He told me that he and Dina had once had old friends who claimed that their son or daughter was a 'gifted child'. Ansell was moved to bring up the case of Akito Kawahara, who as a ten-year-old was regularly consulted by professors of entomology. Now that was a gifted child. Though in making the point so effectively, Ansell and Dina unfortunately lost those old friends.


- January-December: 11, 2, 3, 4, 3, 8, 4, 3, 2, 3, 4, 3. Total 50
- Akito turned 11 in April. Sahe became 10 in December.
- Significant periods of Date Painting: five days in a row twice, both times in January.

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

The above painting was made in Stuttgart. Indeed, I suspect that both sets of five DPs made in January, 1989 were made in that German city. (Why do I say that? It is just as likely that On made five Dates in some other city he was familiar with, such as Paris or Berlin, before moving to Stuttgart.) Brigitte March was organising a show of Conceptual Art there which was presented between Feb 17 and April 8, 1979. Where did On Kawara stay and paint? I have asked Brigitte March via email. Indeed, she has already got back to me to say that there was only one On Kawara painting in her show, and that it had been lent to her by the ex-director of a French gallery. So it seems that On Kawara's presence in Stuttgart at this time was not to do with her show.

Candida Höfer's book reveals that one of the 'sets' of five Date Paintings in a row has remained in Stuttgart, bought by Anna and Josef Froehlich who began to collect German and American contemporary art in 1982. My reproduction of a very clear photo in the book is not that clear. I can assure you that the dates are 23 JAN.1989 to 27 JAN.1989.

Candida Höfer, 2005. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.

The run of Dates almost reproduces what On did in Berlin in 1986. So you might think he had been invited to Stuttgart by the Froehlichs and given a studio space to paint, just as he had been invited to Berlin by Daad. However, a catalogue of the Froehlich Collection, published by the Tate, clarifies that the Froehlichs only had the 23 Jan. - 27 Jan. Date Paintings, not the earlier five. The later five were acquired by the Froehlichs from the Max Hetzler Gallery in Cologne when they were shown there in 1990. Which makes sense. I mean for On Kawara to paint quite a lot of Dates in one year and allow them to be exhibited, perhaps in two different commercial galleries the next year. The Froehlichs may have bought the five paintings at least in part because they were painted in Stuttgart, which is where they lived.

Update. I've now heard from Anita Froehling at the Froehling Foundation. She has informed me that the earlier set of five paintings painted in January 1989 are hanging in the Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis.

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation and with the forbearance, I hope, of Walker Art Centre.

These were bought from Sperone Westwater, On's New York gallery at the time. Further reproductions tell me that these five were also made in Stuttgart. Here's the middle one:

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

Let's call that set of paintings, The Stuttgart 5 (1). And the Froehlich Collection set, The Stuttgart 5 (2). Which means that the only mystery remaining is with who did On Kawara stay for a couple of weeks in Stuttgart? A guest of someone connected to the Königs? Or Rudiger Schöttle? Or Konrad Fischer? Actually, Anita Froehlich has kindly given me more information about that. She has written that Josef Froehlich met On Kawara through Angela Westwater in New York, 1988, when he bought the other two Kawara paintings presently in the Froehlich Foundation. Josef thinks that this encounter led to On's visit to Stuttgart, but there was no formal invitation and the artist did not stay at the Froehlichs' house. Anita Froehlich suggests that since Max Hetzler had a gallery in Stuttgart before moving to Cologne, he would have had contacts where On Kawara might have stayed. Josef vaguely remembers that On told Max to offer Josef the January, 1989 paintings first. I have written to Max Hetzler to see if he can add anything to the developing picture.

On was also in Germany in April. The painting 24APR.1989 was made in Frankfurt where Kasper König had founded a new gallery, called Portikus, in 1987.

In spring, 1989, Kasper König organised the show
On Kawara: Again and Against. Reminder: First, Kasper had organised One Year's Production, 1973. Then there had been On Kawara: continuity/discontinuity. For which Kasper König had been adviser. Both these shows had made full use of 'I GOT UP AT', 'I MET' and 'I WENT'. This new show had to focus on the Date Paintings on their own. He got round this by choosing 23 Date Paintings, one from each year 1966 to 1988, and twinning each with a work made in that same year by an artist who had connections with Frankfurt. Either an artist who taught at the city's art school, or had already had a solo show at Portikus in the two years it had been running, or was pencilled in for having a solo show there in the near future.

I have the slim, landscape-format catalogue
On Kawara: Again and Against, which I am only just starting to appreciate. Why 23 On Kawara paintings and 24 works by other artists? It seems possible that the 24th On Kawara was the one made on 24 APRIL,1989 since the show was up from March 19 to April 26, 1989. That seems to sit neatly with the idea of a show with such place-specific emphasis. Besides, the 24th work by artists with links to Frankfurt was by Ernst Caramelle, an untitled wallpainting, which was made for the exhibition and then destroyed. The painting (visible second from left in next image) seems to create the illusion that one is looking into another room with a painting resting on the floor. Perhaps it was destroyed on April 24 to make way for the new On Kawara Date Painting! In other words, it creates a place of incredible tension and potential.

I need to investigate this further. The installation shot below shows the beginning and end of the one-gallery show. Thus it starts with a 1966 Date Painting, paired with a Gerhard Richter portrait painting from 1966. Richter being the artist due to get the next show at the Portikus courtesy of Kasper König. Then there hangs a 1967 Date Painting preceded by
1 + 1 = 3 by Sigmar Polke, Polke being an artist who'd already had a show at Portikus, courtesy of KK. Then on the left of the photo - having gone all round the walls of the room, as it were, following the show - the visitor reaches its end point with the 1988 Date Painting, NOV.24,1988, and the wall painting that was to be destroyed at the end of the show.

Copyright Portikus Frankfurt am Main

So we must see this special painting that On Kawara travelled to Frankfurt to make. We must visit the second hidden room that wasn't part of the show

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

Don't tell me that the number 24 (again!) is a coincidence. Don't tell me that Kasper König and On Kawara were not sharing a joke here. Of course, they could have been sharing more than a joke. There was something mysterious and visionary going on. But I suspect the audience was not being invited along for the ride.

Perhaps the bottom line was that On Kawara did not like to be separated from a Date Painting until after the end of the year in which it had been painted.

And the box of the Frankfurt Date Painting? This poor quality photo will have to suffice:

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

As I say, I have the catalogue for On Kawara: Again and Against. A version of the show went on to Chicago, Nagoya and Sydney. In each city, 24 different artists were chosen, artists with links to the local venue, and their works were juxtaposed by a local curator with a Date Painting from each of 23 years. Only in the Sydney showing does a 24th Date Painting make an appearance, and that is SEPT.10,1989, although the Sydney exhibition was up between April 5 and May 5, 1990, a time when On Kawara was in Sydney, making five Date Paintings in a row from April 2 to April 7! It's as if Kasper König was trying to encourage On Kawara to investigate the performative aspect of his work, and to explore its site-specific potential. Which On Kawara was willing to do. But it seems that he wouldn't give up possession of a Date Painting until the year following its creation. However, let's get back to a strict chronological approach.

The second showing of 'On Kawara: Again and Against', was at The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago from May 10 to June 25, 1989. The same 23 Date Paintings, from 1966 to 1988. This time the 'local' artists were from Chicago or New York, and included many Conceptual artists. The curator was Susanne Ghez, and in her short statement in the catalogue she mistakenly says there were 24 years of Date Paintings from 1966 to 1989 in the show, but the images contradict this. And Kasper König's catalogue states unambiguously that there was no 24th Date Painting until the fourth leg of the tour.

Suzanne Ghez chose to separate the Date Paintings from the other artists' work, which seems like an odd curatorial decision from where I sit. But what I'm wondering is whether On Kawara was in Chicago during the show, seeing for himself whether it worked or not, and painting a Date Painting 'for' (or 'against') the show. Though if he did the latter, I wouldn't be surprised if the local curator, as well as the audience, was left out of the loop.

Actually, I see from the
100-Year Calendar that On made Date Paintings on seven days in a row from 18 June to 24 June. That would fit the bill. Because surely On Kawara would have been in Chicago for an extended period. (Another voice says that he was more likely to have been in New York.) It would be a unique opportunity to see how his own work looked when hung in the vicinity of his peers' work. Alas, there are no close up shots in the Again and Against catalogue, which consists mostly of plan views and installation shots of multiple art works. Fortunately, the Renaissance Society of the University of Chicago has a website with a comprehensive archive. I intend to make full use of it.

JUNE 18,1989

At his hotel, On Kawara lays down his Date Painting's layers of burnt Sienna and places on top of that several coats of near-black, and heads out to the Renaissance Society. It is an exquisite venue. The artist enjoys making his way between the old buildings, as old as buildings go in America.


As he strolls , On recalls his stay with Hiroko in Chicago in 1975. The hotel then was much further north, too far to walk to the Renaissance Society. The set up this time is perfect.


Inside, On notices that from many spots in the gallery, one can see nothing but Date Paintings. He notes also that they are divided into two strips.

Renaissance Society, University of Chicago. Again and Against. Installation shot, 1989.

Those from 1966 to 1978, being 13 Dates. And those from 1979 to 1988, being 10 Dates. This more or less coincides with the stopping of the postcards in September 1979. It amazes On that he has been Date Painting for almost as long since the abandonment of 'I GOT UP AT' as before. From 1979 to 1989 in the blink of an eye, it seems.

Renaissance Society, University of Chicago. Again and Against. Installation shot, 1989.

At some stage he decides to take in a work of art by one of his peers. He chooses to do this methodically, starting with 1966. First, a quick glimpse at it while still holding onto a view of Date Paintings.

Renaissance Society, University of Chicago. Again and Against. Installation shot, 1989.

Eventually, On makes himself stand in front of the first work by a fellow artist until he has taken in every detail. Lots of words and jokes and attitude. But with a strong sense of organisation and aesthetics pulling things together.


On begins to think about what he is looking at. The word 'anti-individual' explodes in the top half of the picture. It is an explosion of culture. It is pie in the sky. The poor consumer has to eat the raw art, whether he wants to or not. Meanwhile, America is bombing Viet Nam. That perspective is what links On to this work in 1989, just as it would have in 1966. A consciousness that the man on the street is being distracted by consumerism (the high end of which is called 'art'), while in his name the government is bombing people who live on the other side of the world. Art as sausages; art as distraction; art as 'international horseshit'.

Having had enough of the cultural explosion for one day, On Kawara walks back to his hotel (trying to ignore equally the hump he feels rising from his back and the dirty tissues that he imagines on the walkways). When he gets to his room he completes his Date:
JUNE 18,1989.

Feeling clean again, he goes to bed and sleeps

JUNE 19,1989

On gets up early. On gets up late. Ha-ha. He has no idea what the time is when he gets up. He doesn't have to worry about that any more. He just gets up when he gets up.

In his room, On Kawara lays down his Date Painting's layers as he did the day before, then heads out towards the Renaissance Society, a spring in his step. He enjoys walking amongst the students, some cruising past him on bikes, others wandering distractedly, as he is doing.


Inside, he begins once more by walking up and down alongside the rows of Date Paintings. But much sooner than yesterday he takes the plunge and looks to the work of his peers.

Renaissance Society, University of Chicago. Again and Against. Installation shot, 1989.

The work of 1967 chosen to be placed against his own Date Painting from April 12, 1967, though not visible from the same place in the gallery, is a text piece by Joseph Kosuth. On approaches it and considers it awhile. White lettering against dark background: On has no problem with that. The text is appropriated from a dictionary with no creative input from the artist. He has no problem with that either.


However, On finds it difficult to consider Kosuth's work objectively. This is because whenever he looks at anything by Joseph Kosuth, he finds that Dan Graham is standing by his shoulder making it clear how much disdain he has for both Kosuth and his work. Dan Graham and Joseph Kosuth are both intelligent men. But Dan Graham is an outsider while Joseph Kosuth is an ambitious networker; Dan is hilariously funny and Joseph is not so much. Dan can't forgive Jospeh for being a 'humourless ass-licker'. Can On forgive Joseph for that? Can he forgive Dan for it, for that matter? Yes, it's just that he can't ignore it.

To be in one's element. To be out of one's element. Joseph was in his own element. He was out of Dan's element. And
vice versa.

In due course, On considers the work hung next to
Art as Idea as Idea. That is, at another text piece, this one by Lawrence Weiner.


Lawrence had once written to On Kawara. What had he said, exactly?:


It strikes On now that an alternative definition of an artist would be a person who every day poured one fluorescein sea marker into the sea. But he needs to check something out before going any further. Influenced, perhaps, by the Kosuth piece which he spent half an hour with, On walks out of the gallery to the nearest bookshop, the University of Chicago Bookshop, and consults a Collins dictionary. He looks up the word: 'fluorescein'. The dictionary says:

'Noun; an orange-red crystalline compound that in aqueous solution exhibits a greenish-yellow fluorescence in reflected light and is reddish-orange in transmitted light: used as a marker in sea water and as an indicator.'

On thinks about the difference between reflected and transmitted light all the way back to his hotel. And in his room he puts white acrylic on his tapered brush and paints: 'JUN.20,1989'. He does this after briefly considering what the abbreviation 'FLU.' would look like, assuming FLUORESCEIN to be the name of
the sixth month in some parallel universe.

JUNE 20,1989

At his hotel, On Kawara lays down his Date Painting's layers of burnt Sienna and unique shade of near-black and heads out to the Renaissance Society.

As he walks, he recalls something. Back in 1970, Lucy Lippard had invited Lawrence Weiner, On Kawara and Sol LeWitt (amongst others) to contribute to a magazine edited by her partner Seth Siegelaub. It was the July/August issue of
Studio International. For each page, one artist was required to set the situation for the next. Lawrence Weiner had written at the top of On Kawara's page: 'The only situation I can bring to impose myself on you would be my hopes for your having a good day.' To that On had responded by placing a copy of the 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegram that he had sent to Sol LeWitt in February of that year. And that was also the situation presented at the top of the next page for Sol LeWitt to respond to. How had Sol responded in turn?

Sol had constructed a text piece starting with the original word order of On's telegram, and then presented a line by line reordering, more or less systematically omitting words to deconstruct the meaning of the original phrase. Something like this:

And so on. Finally it turned into questions, and ended:


Back in 1970, there had been bonds of friendship and communication between those artists regarded as 'Conceptualists'. But what had happened to those bonds? They had weakened, as each artist's life had taken its own course. On hardly ever saw even Dan these days. Neither Dan Graham nor Sol LeWitt were even in this show. Whose fault was that? It was non-one's fault. The local curator had been given autonomy to do her job.

Once inside the Renaissance Society gallery again, On headed straight for the 1986 picture that was not by himself. He stood for a long time in front of Richard Prince's appropriated joke. What had worked well as a small, single frame of cartoon in a newspaper, also worked when remade into a large, nine-frame image on the wall o
f a gallery.


After he had stood there for long enough, On felt himself to be one of the suited and hatted pair that had met in a New York bar, but wasn't sure if the second man was Dan or Joseph or Lawrence or Sol. Did that matter? Well, let's see:






On walks back to the hotel to paint. Once he has finished June 20,1989, he lies awake on his bed until midnight.

JUNE 21,1989

On the stroke of midnight, On begins to paint JUNE21,1989. He gets the background layers to dry quickly by using a hair dryer. He is nearly finished the lettering by dawn, when he goes to bed. But he gets up at 1pm so as to be able to spend at least some quality time in the gallery.

For a while, On is happy to move up and down the lines of Date Paintings.

Renaissance Society, University of Chicago. Again and Against. Installation shot, 1989.

Eventually, he asks himself the question, which of his peers work was he going to focus on that afternoon? How about his colleague, Vito Acconci. On had sent Vito postcards towards the end of 1970, partly as a mark of respect to the artist responsible for the work he was looking at now:


January, 1970. For each weekend in the month, Vito had installed furniture and boxes full of stuff from a quarter of his New York flat on Christopher Street in the Gain Ground Gallery. And whenever he needed something from that part of the flat, he walked to the gallery, took it back to the flat, returning with it to the gallery once he had finished using it. In the photo, it looks as if Vito is picking up (or putting back) a jar of coffee.

The situation on display reminds On Kawara of his own situation. He lives in nearby accommodation. Every day he visits the gallery and takes something away from it that he needs for his domestic life. Not strictly true, of course. But the artist moving regularly from the room where he lived and worked, to the gallery where his work was shown to the public, was an exact parallel to what he was doing today in Chicago.

There was an important difference. Vito was performing for an art audience. On Kawara is not performing. He is just doing this, all of this, for himself.

On returns to his room and goes over and over the letters and numbers of
JUNE 21,1989.

For himself.

JUNE 22,1989

On the face of it, this is a deadpan painting. But in truth it is a deathbed protest.


The face of Mao Tse Tung, had been so ubiquitous in China, smiling and powerful. But in this image from 1977, it appears shrivelled and powerless in death.

On recalls using the name 'Mao Tse-tung' several times in the subtitles of his Date Paintings. He thinks he can remember three examples, more or less accurately:

"Wall newspapers in Peking today reported that 250 persons were injured this week in fighting among supporters of Mao Tse-tung in a suburb of the Chinese capital."

"The Peking radio indicated today that many workers in Shanghai had gone on strike to protest Mao Tse-tung's 'cultural revolution'."

"Chairman Mao Tse-tung and Premier Kakuei Tanaka of Japan in Peking."



Other: "OH, I GET IT!"

JUNE 23,1989

On has spent a long time with this work:


Perhaps On's interest is piqued because he has spent the last few days rubbing shoulders with affluent, college-bound students. Do they face the prospect of downward mobility? Are they growing up at the end of an era of plenty?

On appreciates the white text on dark metal. He likes the four screws that have attached the mottled metal plate to the walls of the gallery with such authority. He thinks the three fullstops could be more emphatic. It's easy to miss them on first reading. But then no interested party would read this text just once. The eyes are seduced into going over the words again and again.

On begins to feel sorry for the rich kids. He admires the way the word 'RESENTMENT' bounces off 'REASSESSMENT'. REASSESSMENT has led to RESENTMENT.

Another reason for On's interest is that the young artist (Jenny Holzer was born in 1950, nearly twenty years after On) is going to be included with On in a group show in Barcelona at the start of 1990. The four artists showing will be On Kawara, Jenny Holzer, Lawrence Weiner and Bruce Nauman. On is looking forward to the experience. Will he travel to the show? We must wait and see. (Of course he will travel to the show.)

JUNE 24,1989

This is the 24th work, made in 1989. It is the only one that does not have a corresponding Date Painting


The staring eyes of Robert Mapplethorpe seem to set up a challenge in the viewer. And on June 24, 1989, I suggest that the viewer was On Kawara

"Why have you not allowed one of the Date Paintings that you made this week be part of this show?"

"I do not want to draw attention to myself."

"But the 23 Date Paintings mean that you are already the focus of the show."

"The focus of the show is that I have been alive from 1966 to 1988, and so have 24 other artists."

"But here you stand on June 24, 1989, and you are still alive in the most wonderful way."

"No more wonderful than the way I was alive from 1966 to 1988. Let that be enough."

"I do not understand how you managed to persuade Kasper König to go along with these stipulations. Does the phrase 'site-specific performance' mean nothing to you?"

"Ah, now I know you are joking! And now that we have broken the ice, let me introduce you to the coyote who I have been sharing a hotel room with for the last week."


Where had I got to? On Kawara in 1989, following his time in Stuttgart (January), Frankfurt (April) and Chicago (June), though I have no proof that On Kawara was in Chicago. The smart money says he was living at 140 Greene Street during June, 1989. I have really gone out on a fictional limb there.

The following painting was made in Nagoya, Japan.

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

18 June! Oh, I don't believe this. That was the first of the seven days that I had marked down for On having painted in Chicago! Instead it looks to have been the first of seven Date paintings made in Nagoya! But hang on. Nagoya was the third stop on the On Kawara: Again and Against tour, and its opening times were from November 4 to December 24, 1989.

The above painting, or any of the six that followed, were not in the Nagoya show. Whereas it would have been easy enough for On Kawara to make this site-specific work available to the local curator, Fumio Nanjo. The latter writes in the Again and Against catalogue: 'In addition to the 23 date paintings by On Kawara from the period 1966 to 1988, this exhibition presents works produced by 24 other Japanese artists each year between 1966 and 1989.'

So you see the puzzle. Why didn't On Kawara make available 18 JUNE,1989, painted in Nagoya, so that there were 24 Date paintings by On Kawara to balance the work by 24 other Japanese artists, the last of whose pieces was by Hotaro Koyoma in 1989? And the answer is, I suppose, because, as was his custom, he preferred to hold on to the dates he painted until the next calendar year.

A month later this one was made in Naha, Japan.

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

I presume On returned to New York for the autumn and winter, and missed the third showing of 'On Kawara: Again and Against'. But as On Kawara is running rings round both me and the world at this point, I can't be sure.

Let's try and get back on firmer ground at the end of a decade of very little travelling except between New York and Japan. Of the paintings done away from New York in this decade (apart from the paintings made in Germany in December 1986, January 1989 and April 1989), almost all were made in Japan. But each of these paintings were made at times too disparate to be part of any kind of a road-trip.

As for the trickle of Date Paintings made elsewhere. Let me briefly summarise them. A few were made on what I presume was a family holiday in the already explored salmon-fishing territory of Nova Scotia. And two were made within relatively easy travelling distance of Paris, being Brussels and Lyon.

Germany where On Kawara progressed his work in the late 1980s. The invite to Berlin led to the painting of site-specific Date Paintings a few months before the Daad show in Berlin. Then an invite to Stuttgart, probably from the Froehlichs, led to two sets of five paintings that I call 'The Stuttgart Five (Minneapolis)' and 'The Stuttgart Five (Stuttgart)'. Then the plan put together with Kasper to play the Date Paintings off the work of other artists, while dangling the site-specific and date-specific aspect of new work in front of this retrospective visitor - your humble scribe - in the most outrageous way.

Below is a map of On Kawara's Germany at this time. Rüdiger Schöttle was still showing On Kawara in Munich, at least he did in 1981 and would again in 1998. Konrad Fischer was still showing On Kawara in Dusseldorf (as well as in Zurich). And Max Hetzler was showing On Kawara in Cologne.


Let me talk very briefly about the Sydney stage of the
Again and Against show at this point, the fourth and last stage of the tour, which I'll go into in more detail in the next essay. The local curator was Linda Michael and she begins her page of text with the following factually correct statement: 'The exhibition consists of 24 date-paintings by On Kawara from 1966 to 1989 and 24 works executed in corresponding years from the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney.'

The 24th On Kawara painting is
SEPT.10,1989. Was it painted in Sydney? I doubt it. But On did (yes he did!) fly to Sydney for the exhibition itself, which was open from April 5, 1990 to May 5, 1990. He won't have gone to the opening, I don't suppose. But he did produce Date Paintings in Sydney for each of the five days from April 2, 1990 to April 6, 1990.

On Kawara seems to have been fascinated by Date Painting at the venues of his own shows at this stage in his life. He definitely site-specifically Date Painted while the Frankfurt and Sydney parts of the show were on. He definitely Date Painted in Nagoya a few months before the opening of the third stage of the tour, perhaps realising he would be in New York when the show actually opened in November/December 1989. As for the Chicago leg of the tour, don't tell me that On Kawara missed out on that entirely. Don't tell me that he didn't slip into that city - which he'd known since his wonderful road-trip to the Great Lakes in 1975 - sometime between May 10 and July 18, 1989.

But those site-specific, date overlapping Date Paintings couldn't be part of these shows because On Kawara insisted on keeping possession of his Dates until one year had ticked over into the next. It's just possible that this drove Kasper K
önig mad. "Again and Against My Wishes; Again and Against All Reason!"


A day later. January 12, 2022. I realise I've overlooked something that I must properly consider - or at least set out for everyone else - before moving on to the next essay.

In his preface to the 1991 book
On Kawara: Again and Against, Kasper König mentions the essay written by Wolfgang Max Faust for the publication On Kawara 1976 Berlin 1986. In this essay, 'Intersecting Parallels', Wolfgang Max Faust begins by quoting On Kawara in personal discussion with him. "Europeans can't really understand Japanese. For them 'one' is the basis of thinking. For the Japanese, 'complements' permeates all thought."

I guess On Kawara had already said the gist of this to Kasper K
önig and others. It helps explain why On Kawara: continuity/discontinuity was the name of the show put on by Moderne Museet, Stockholm, in 1980.

The essay, 'Intersecting Parallels', goes on to twin a Date Painting from each of the twenty years 1966 to 1986 with a work of art made in the same year by another artist. Let me pick out a few examples from the twenty available:

MAY13, 1966.
Date Painting and Self-Portrait. The complementary image is a print by Andy Warhol.

Date Painting and Conceptual Art. The complementary image is a 'primary structure' by Sol LeWitt.

Date Painting and Language. The complementary image is another of Joseph Kosuth's dictionary definitions.

I'll miss out a few here, including the first appearance of Joseph Beuys, just to avoid overwhelming you, earnest reader, with examples.

Date Painting and Space. The complementary image is a line of stones in the landscape, put there by Richard Long.

Date Painting and Process Art. The complementary image is one of Dan Graham's video installations of real-time events.

Date Painting and Role Playing. The complementary image is a photograph of and by Cindy Sherman.

It should be said that these are all world-class artists, because we are only talking about illustrations in a book about On Kawara's time in Berlin, not staging an exhibition that would tour round the world, which Kasper K
önig was trying to do.

Also, it must be obvious by now that this structure can be used with almost anything. To give two 21st Century examples,
Date Painting and Social Engagement; Date Painting and Identity Politics. But let's try and stick with Wolfgang Max Faust until the end of his essay, as it had such an influence on the conception of 'On Kawara: Again and Against'.

Date Painting and the Year of Orwell. The complementary image concerns a TV program made by Nam June Paik.

Date Painting and Death. The complementary image is a photo of Joseph Beuys amid his installation Plight, the last large-space installation he presented before his death.


I remember being in that installation. The Anthony d'Offay gallery lined with rolls of felt. It was womb-like and sustaining. Then the next thing I heard was that Joseph Beuys had died. I remember feeling shocked and a huge sense of loss, which continues to this day. I wonder what the impact was on On Kawara.

Date Painting and Biography. The complementary image is another of the Date Paintings that On Kawara made in Berlin in December of 1986. The essay tries to explain what is meant here, but it is not clear. I would rather put it the following way. In twenty years the Date Paintings had remained the same. But I expect the artist behind them had changed in his understanding both of the work itself and it's place in the scheme of things.

Perhaps it is this self-referential ending of the series that Kasper K
önig wanted to avoid in 'On Kawara: Again and Against'. Instead of having 20 On Kawara paintings and 18 other artists (in the Berlin book, Date Painting is paired with Date Painting in 1976 as well as 1986), 'On Kawara: Again and Against' would have 23 Date Paintings and 24 works by other artists, at least until the fourth leg of the world tour.

OK, I'll leave it there. It might take a while for the implications of this postscript to seep through our collective mind. But it does emphasise how much thought (by artist, by overall organiser, by local curator) had been put into the works chosen to complement the Date Paintings of On Kawara in 'Again and Against'. Not to mention, yet again, the whole 'watcher/painter/ghost at the feast' aspect of what actually went on at those four venues.


I'm adding this in November, 2023, having spent a year focussing on On Kawara's 1966 to 1979 period and writing up the chapters that head this website.

Again and Against? It seems obvious that both Kasper Konig and On Kawara were trying to promote the Date Paintings, which had been in production for 24 years by this time. In the period I've just emerged from studying in depth, the Dates were seen against the 'I GOT UP' postcards, the 'I WENT' and 'I MET' information. (Hang on, is that right? The 1974 show in Bern was 'One Year's Production'. The 1980 show curated by
Moderna Museet, was a retrospective of what the artist had been doing from 1963 to 1979. It's only the 1977 Pompidou Centre show which presented 97 Date Paintings made over 90 days at the start of 1970 which focussed on Dates alone. But that show didn't work in the minds of the public. So, yes, let it stand, until 1980 the Dates were most effectively seen in parallel - and curated - with the three self-observation series.)

On Kawara and 23 Dates made over 24 years was presented in conjunction with work by 24 other artists in 1989/90. It was an attempt to place On Kawara as central to Art History; On Kawara as touchstone; On Kawara as timeless master. I think that works better in the Wolfgang Max Faust pictorial essay, 'Intersecting Parallels', than it did in 'Again and Against'. In the latter, the venues were not quite big enough: Frankfurt is not Berlin; Chicago is not New York; Nagoya is not Tokyo; and Sydney is only the capital of Australia. (Australia's cultural importance grew steadily throughout the last 30 years, so don't get your knickers in a twist, Bruce.) Secondly, the other artists were not big enough names in the art world. Andy Warhol and Joseph Beuys, both prominent in Wolfgang Max Faust's essay/list, were absent from all four manifestations of 'Again and Against'. Thirdly, the catalogue was not substantial enough. It's unpaginated, less than 100 pages thick, and its hardback boards are really quite distressingly flexible. It was published by
Porticus Frankfurt am Main, the gallery that Kasper Konig was director of. So Kasper had done his best for his star artist, but money had clearly been limited. Kasper Konig was trying to force something - the international importance of On Kawara - and his effort, this time around, hadn't quite come off.

Even more intriguing is how On Kawara placed himself against 'Again and Against'. I didn't quite bring off an analysis of that in the above essay. He was physically present in both the first and fourth legs of the tour, at Frankfurt and Sydney, privately - 'secretly' even - painting a 24th date while Dates from the previous 23 years were on show in major art galleries in the city. Moreover, while the second leg (Chicago) was on show in summer 1989, On was in Nagoya, the third venue (Nov. and Dec. 1989) making Dates. These Dates painted between June 18 and June 24 could be seen as providing the 24th Date in either/both the Chicago and Nagoya legs of the tour. Why didn't On physically go to Chicago from New York in the summer and postpone his time in Nagoya to the end of the year? Because it would seem that his family life came first. On, Hiroko and the kids always spent summer in Japan and the fact that he had 'Again and Against' showing in Chicago in the summer wasn't enough to make him change plans. He had to find a virtual or symbolic way to be at both the American and Japanese venues when his show was appearing there. And so he did that.

As for the 24th Date, which finally made an appearance on a gallery wall when 'Again and Against' got to Sydney. That wasn't any of the five Dates that On Kawara was painting when he was out there when the show opened, because it was 1990 by this time and the 24th Date had to be a 1989 Date to continue and complete the 24-year sequence. So
SEPT.10, 1989, a picture painted when On was living and working at 140 Greene Street, New York, was placed on the wall of the gallery in Sydney.

On Kawara: Again and Against. For me, in the end, the other 24 artists' work disappears and what we are left with is the 23 Date paintings on the wall of the gallery and On Kawara painting the 24th annual date, first in Frankfurt,
24 APR. 1989, then in Nagoya (in place of Chicago) 24 JUN, 1989… Things were left like that (unfinished) until the turn of the year and the show moving on to Sydney, where On painted Dates in the first week of April, 1990, while looking on, smiling with contained self-satisfaction, as SEPT. 10, 1989 was finally slot into place as the 24th date in a sequence of 24 Dates in 24 years.

On Kawara: Again and Against himself. Untouchable otherwise.