1998




I’ve been wondering about something. If my visit to the On Kawara show held at Lisson Gallery had a big impact in the summer of 1992, which it did, how did it impact on
Personal Delivery, the book I wrote about contemporary art a few years later?

Personal Delivery focuses on the exhibitions I attended from September 1995, through spring of 1996, before dates (if not frolics) fizzle out towards the end of 1997. The book was published by Quartet of London in September, 1998.


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So I picked up a copy of
Personal Delivery and browsed it from beginning to end, looking for On Kawara’s name, but also making a note of the way I had used dates and approached time. At the end of that process I wrote on the first page:

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Did On Kawara make a Date Painting on September 28, 1995, or March 7, 1996? Well, I don’t yet have access to a database that will allow me to answer that question. On Kawara did produce a
Hunderd Year Calendar, covering the Twentieth Century, on which he marked his own days - of being alive - in yellow dots, and overpainted those days on which he completed a Date Painting with a green dot. I’ve seen that calendar up-dated to mid-1984. I have to hope that the artist kept it going until the end of the century. I expect he did. Both because he was so resolutely systematic, and because he also produced a similar calendar for the 21st Century. Which he surely wouldn’t have done without first completing the calendar for the 20th Century.

The above paragraph was written in February, 2021. Now its July, and I have access to the 100-year calendars, both for the 20th Century and the 21st, thanks to this double page in
On Kawara: SILENCE published by the Guggenheim. Personal Delivery is in there to give the scale. Come to think of it, the cover could be read as showing On Kawara with a Date painting in the red bag and an I WENT list in his left hand.

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It is the 20th Century calendar that concerns me. The reproduction in the catalogue itself has to be scrutinised with a magnifying glass after first counting down the lines of dots to the correct year, and counting across the page to the correct month. This reveals that On Kawara did not produce a Date Painting on either 28 September, 1995, or on 7 March, 1996.

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Back at the start of February I was a bit disappointed not to come across On Kawara’s name in Personal Delivery. Then I remembered that I had mentioned his name specifically in a draft of a chapter on Bob and Roberta Smith (aka Patrick Brill), but I’d dropped it for the final text. After a good look round the shed, where I keep what passes for a personal archive, I found the following, which is in the style of a Bob and Roberta Smith text work. Which is to say embedded with art world references and deadpan humour :

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The chapter involves Bob and Roberta Smith attempting to launch concrete boats on the Serpentine. A conspicuous failure. But it was the concrete motif that inspired me to use the kind of paper I did for the On Kawara text. In the end, I must have decided that to mention On Kawara at all in the chapter was gratuitous.

Looking further amongst theses old papers, I found an even earlier draft of this page, marked on the back of an envelope that I'd filed away.

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That I'd been aware of On Kawara's road-trip across the United States back in 1995, is something I'd long forgotten.

By the time
Personal Delivery was published, the above page had been transformed into the illustration that can be found on page 73 of the book. I should say that Untitled is, or was, an art publication, edited by John Stathatos in London, that published my review of that same Bob and Roberta Smith show, ‘Flawed’, while I was in the process of writing Personal Delivery. Hence Untitled played a role, I'd suggest, in giving credibility to what I was attempting, and to layering the work.

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I think I can say that On Kawara truly was at the back of my mind while I was composing
Personal Delivery. Just as was, for example, Vincent Van Gogh. I couldn’t focus on On Kawara because he didn’t have any shows on in London or Scotland in the relevant period. On Kawara was a known name, an example of a conceptual artist who’d risen to prominence in New York in the 1960s, but he hadn’t yet entered that period where his work was celebrated in large solo shows all round the world. Actually, that's not quite true. Thanks to Kasper König, and a few other curators, On Kawara had had major solo shows in many of the world's cities, but not in the UK. Not on my stomping ground.

From now on this text you're reading is pure July, 2021. I open
Personal Delivery and read the first line of the book. 'To the Richard Long exhibition at d'Offay's.' I'd wanted to start my book this way as a tribute to Anthony d'Offay, who had been putting on shows at his exemplary Dering Street Gallery (just off Oxford Street) ever since I'd lived in London. However, I now realise that the person I should really have been thanking for the series of sublime shows was Konrad Fischer. In The Konrad Fischer Years /1964-1978, Linda Morris writes: 'In 1982 Konrad was... working with Anthony d'Offay, who showed Konrad's artists in London: Richard Long, Gilbert and George, Bruce Nauman… I was told that in return for moving his artists Konrad received 10% of d'Offay's annual profits. In 1993 Konrad joked: "I do not have to work anymore, d'Offay does it all for me."'

Which leads to the question: Why did Anthony d'Offay not exhibit On Kawara? What a difference to my gallery-going life that would have made!
Personal Delivery would have exploded from the page. It might even have exploded from the first page, as its opening line could have been: 'To the On Kawara show at d'Offay's' Actually, that's not fair on Richard Long. That chapter is fine, Long's work is both original in itself, and left space for my protagonist to bounce off it.

What puzzles me is that On Kawara would have been ripe for the move. He had shown three times in London at the Lisson Gallery (1978, 1985 and 1992) but was never to show there again. Nor to have a solo show at any other commercial gallery in London. The Lisson was the gallery that Richard Long had shown at prior to being transferred to d'Offay's by Konrad Fischer. So I ask again? Why did Anthony d'Offay not take the opportunity of showing On Kawara? I have a feeling that d'Offay must have decided he didn't like On Kawara's work. Or he decided that - on the basis of Logsdail's's experience at the Lisson - there wasn't a strong enough market for Kawara's work in the UK.

I flick through
Personal Delivery to the chapter called 'For Love of Today'. Just as the Bob and Roberta chapter included sublimated references to On Kawara, so this Sean Landers chapter has On Kawara very much in mind.

Although the chapter covers 18 pages of the book, the majority of it is reproductions of a text I wrote over two days in black capital letters onto a single white-painted board. The first sentence reads: 'I GOT UP AT 9.45am.' Pretty obviously an On Kawara reference. I say a little later: 'THAT FIRST SENTENCE WAS IN MY MIND FROM THE TIME I LOOKED AT MY WATCH.' Why was the first sentence in my mind from then? Because I wanted to write 'I GOT UP AT…'

And the final sentence on the board reads: 'NOTHING TO SAY? TODAY TO SAY. I AM HERE TODAY AND WON'T ALWAYS BE. A FUNNY FEELING IN MY STOMACH AND MY EYES. I AM HERE TODAY AND WON'T ALWAYS BE. FUNNY FEELING. TODAY, YESTERDAY, TOMORROW.'

It felt like a minor miracle when a publisher offered to publish this idiosyncratic - some would say outlandish - scrapbook of art world meanderings. In fact, that was what one reviewer said. 'To call it a scrapbook is an insult to that relatively structured format.' Ha-ha. But that's what happened: it got published by a respectable London publisher. So let's check out my diary in the month following publication. Approximately 100 copies of the book had gone out as review copies…

2 September, 1998
‘Meet Isabel Lloyd. 1pm. DLR. Canada Square. 18th floor. Ind. reception. Ask for Isabel.’

Isabel Lloyd had left a phone message the previous week, very excited after having read my book. She wanted to meet and to discuss the prospect of me writing for the
Independent on Sunday. At the lunchtime meeting, her colleague, Jenny Turner, from the Culture section of the Sunday paper joined us. I felt the conversation went astonishingly well, because Isabel had already convinced herself that my voice was original, clear and just what their arts coverage needed.

8 September, 1998
‘Call from Jenny Turner. IoS column!’

The exclamation mark says that after writing very personal stuff for ten years without getting anything published (apart from one short story in an anthology), and without giving a career in journalism a single thought, here I was being offered my own weekly column in a national newspaper. A day of self-congratulation. By this time, I'd written my first two 'Public View' columns and was awaiting their appearance in print.

19 September, 1998
Lisson gallery. ‘A Single Moment’. Got IoS from King’s Cross at 10.30pm.

This entry refers to the writing of the third column and the appearance in
the Sunday paper of the first one. It's the third column I want to say something about, as there is an On Kawara dimension to it. First, dear reader, sit back and enjoy 'A Single Moment', if you possibly can:

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I like the I AM STILL ALIVE tribute that the piece ends with. I bet Nicholas Logsdail disliked the article, if he was ever made aware of it. The arts writer, or reviewer, or columnist, or whatever I was, had not realised that Peter Joseph was an abstract painter of international repute! Sorry, to all concerned at the Lisson. However, Logsdail got his revenge on the outside world when asked to allow Candida Höfer into his home in order to photograph an On Kawara painting from his collection. This is what Candida came away with:

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The On Kawara is there all right, top middle of the photo. Hung in the hole cut into the ceiling so that natural light floods into the room, just as it does in the biggest gallery at the Lisson.
JAN.1, 1984. That fits the pattern of being painted in the year preceding a show of On Kawara's work at the gallery.

But pride of place in the living room surely goes to the pair of paintings by Peter Joseph who has had many shows at the Lisson. A press release from 2019 states: 'He is the longest standing artist shown by Lisson Gallery, with his first exhibition in London in 1967, representing over fifty years of collaboration and friendship with the founder, Nicholas Logsdail.'

However, my column suggests - to me at least - that Peter Joseph and On Kawara were singing from the same hymn sheet. As I quoted Joseph in the article itself: "This ultimately is reality to me, a single moment understood that is free from time." But surely, you might suggest,
JAN 1,1984 is as time-bound as it's possible to be? Not so. I see a man hunched over a date painting, focussing on his work-in-progress, oblivious to the hour of day, the month of year, at one with his self-appointed task.

I also see a man walking down a country road. It could have been me on September 19, 1998. Or it could be me on July 22, 2021. The fact is, I've just been up the hill to the 'LET TIME PASS' bench that I've been photographing for this project, and I'd read the above column before going out for my walk. As I walked along I was thinking how little had fundamentally changed in the ensuing 23 years. I was still happily putting one foot in front of the other, walking in step - perhaps even in tune - with the universe.


29 September, 1998
Letter from David Bowie (!)

What can I possibly mean? I mean this:

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My brother had suggested I send this book to Bowie, who had been a big influence on our adolescence. "You never know," John said. And indeed you never do know.

11 October, 1998
Public View 4: Speed of Life

This entry means that I wrote my fourth column on October 11th. When it appeared it looked as below. It's there to be read as part of this essay, not just because the last paragraph concerns On Kawara, but
because the artwork discussed at length is a take on the 1969 moon landing, which On Kawara seems to have thought of as the main event of his adult lifetime.

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The On Kawara that I saw that day was the following one, which I've reproduced from the catalogue, Speed, edited by Jeremy Millar and Michael Schwarz. If the date feels familiar, then it should do. It was one of the paintings that had hung in the Lisson back in 1992. One of the paintings that I revisited in May, 2021, on the thirty-year anniversary of its production.

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Why was MAY 7,1991 included in the Speed show? Clearly because, wanting an On Kawara painting for their exhibition, the curators had contacted the Lisson and this is what had been made available. Nothing more recent, because no further shows of Date Painting had been organised by the London gallery.

As Shakespeare said at the beginning of
A Midsummer Night's Dream: "How slo-o-o-o-o-o-o-w this May moon wanes."

Something like that, anyway



17 October, 1998
Review from D.B.

Although it appeared on a website, I was sent a printed copy of his review through the post by Bowie's London agent. (These were early days of the internet.) The yellow highlighting is mine, but I can't remember what that was in aid of. Perhaps I was making a shorter version of the review for someone.


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The review carried on to another page for just the one line. As I've noted, that last line says'"finkin' an 'at," By which Bowie means 'Thinking and that." A colloquial way to finish, but I wasn't complaining. No, indeed, I was celebrating. I'm celebrating still.

Iman: "Come, David, let's make love,"

D.B.: "In a minute, darling. I must have my nightly dose of
Personal Delivery."

Iman: "All that stuff about using rolls of tissue paper to keep a door from slamming in the middle of the night. I don't get it! Which Beatle was that, anyway? Doesn't sound to me like Paul or Ringo!"

D.B. (laughing while reading)

Iman: "What's the joke?"

D.B. (still laughing, still reading) "I don't think I can explain."

Iman: "If this keeps up for much longer I'll be moving to the spare bedroom."

D.B. "Darling, would you say that my work is about that process of assimilation, contemplation and, finally, expression, that all artists do in some form or another?"

Iman: "That's it. I'm out of here."



30 October, 1998
Wrote ‘The Four Corners of the Earth’. Phone call from David Bowie from Bermuda. He wants to publish Chinese Illustrations.

It's possible, revered reader, you want to know what David Bowie and I spoke about. I will tell you. But first the text of what I'd written that morning, as On Kawara got a paragraph, as did his stable-mate, Richard Long. Not to mention Buzz Aldrin.

Stand by for blast-off. Ten. Nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one…


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Reading this today, I was thrown for a minute by 'Page 2 of Buzz's bumper new book'. But I now realise this was an obscure reference to my own Personal Delivery. I'd been told by my publisher that it wasn't selling well. So this was my way of trying to help the marketing department. It's not easy to think practically when you're on cloud nine. There are first world problems and there is first world ecstasy.

Reading this today I was also struck by the sentence about Richard Long walking along the east bank of the Rio Grande. That's when the artist stayed at Santa Fe. Where On Kawara had stayed during his 1973 road-trip. Small, four-cornered world!

Anyway, back to the phone call I received after writing that column. I'd sent off a copy of the manuscript for
Chinese Illustrations to Bowie's agent and thought I'd never hear anything more. On 30 October, 1998, after not having had a phone call from anyone for about a week, such was my London bedsit lifestyle in those days, the phone rang when I was in the bath. Hungry for human contact, and thinking it might be Jenny from the Independent on Sunday, I got out of the bath, wrapped the big orange towel round myself, and answered it. "Hi, this is David Bowie," came down the line. He tried to put me at my ease but my heart was beating so fast that he must have been able to hear my heavy breathing. Acknowledging how common such a reaction to him was, he told me he went around as anonymously as possible, with a Greek newspaper under his arm and answering to the name 'Steve'. He told me he'd like to publish Chinese Illustrations if it was still 'free'. I pulled myself together and asked him how much of the manuscript he'd actually read. He told me he'd read the first two chapters and loved its quietness and sense of calm. Well, it was in chapter two that I'd paid a little tribute to Bowie via the lyrics of 'Rebel Rebel', and so maybe that had influenced his opinion. I told him I'd be delighted if '21' was to publish the work, but that I doubted his co-directors, a more conservative bunch, including the director of a Cork Street gallery and the editor of Modern Painters, would be up for it. He said that I should leave that with him. Before the call ended, David offered me his email address, but I turned that down on the basis that I didn't have a computer and thought that email was an elitist form of communication. ("Doh!")

How do I feel about that call in retrospect? Well, I won't be getting another one, not from that unique source. From 'Starman' to stardust, Rise in Peace, David Bowie.

So I have to make the most of that one and only call. It's only today I've realised there is a David Bowie/On Kawara connection, in that I'd written the column mentioning On Kawara in the morning, and had spoken to Bowie in the afternoon. A conjunction that I'm just beginning to get my head round. So let's fly with that…


Below is what had been earmarked as the cover of Chinese Illustrations. A variation on the cover of Personal Delivery. An image that I have every reason to believe Bowie liked just as much as I did. But what does it portray?


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The cover of
Chinese Illustrations of the Path to Immortality shows On Kawara standing on one of his own Date Paintings, size H I would estimate. How else was he going to travel from Japan to New Guinea? How else was he going to navigate the fourth of the world's great corners?

I GOT UP…I WENT…I MET…I SILENCED THE TOILET DOOR…I AM STILL ALIVE…
I GOT UP…I WENT…I MET…I SILENCED THE TOILET DOOR…I AM STILL ALIVE…
I GOT UP…I WENT…I MET…I SILENCED THE TOILET DOOR…I AM STILL ALIVE…

In order to celebrate yesterday (by which I mean 30 October, 1998), I will paint today. Or perhaps I don't have to. The painting I made a few days ago, July 20, commemorates the middle of the 'moon landing' triptych. So let's try that as a raft on a sea of Bowie albums. 52 years on from the first moon landing that so inspired both On Kawara and David Bowie.

"Can you hear me Major Tom?

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Can you hear me Major Tom?
Can you… "


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"…HERE, am I floating round my tin can
Far above the world…."

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Planet earth is blue
And there's nothing I can do."

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There is so much more I could say. But the structure of this work saves me: it's chronological approach. One day at a time, one year at a time.

You get the picture.