2008





This essay will focus on the show of On Kawara's work that could be seen at Dallas Museum of Art between May 18 and August 24, 2008. Which is to say nearly all of one particular summer. My intention is for everyone who reads it to become even more familiar with the riches that were on display than anyone who was lucky enough to be physically there at the time. And the non-name of the show? '10 Tableaux and 16,952 Pages.'

Following the success of the 'Consciousness, Meditation, Watcher on the Hills' exhibition, which had toured much of the world from 2002 to 2006, On Kawara had another curatorial idea, one that he hoped would be realised in the United States, in part because there had been no American venue for the Consciousness, etc, tour. Are Mexico City and Toronto not in the United States then? No, they are not. The last significant American exhibition of On Kawara had been the year long show at Dia Art Foundation, New York, in 1993, the same year as
Date Painting in 89 Cities had been shown at the Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

If the core of the 2002-2006 show was a Sunday Date Painting for every year from 1966 onwards, the core of the new show was the ten paintings that On Kawara had made at the largest of his sizes, size 'H', over the forty years of his Date Painting career. If those accounted for the '10 Tableaux' what were the '16952 Pages'? In short, 4136 + 4772 + 4772 + 3272 = 16,952. Being pages associated with the 'Million Years (Past and Future)' volumes, the 'I WENT' volume and 'I MET' volumes and 'I READ', respectively.

I suspect Dallas stepped forward as the host venue in the spring of 2007, as this is when they acquired the set of five Date Paintings, one per decade from 1966 to 2006. That information comes from the foreword to the catalogue,
10 Tableaux and 16952 Pages. As does confirmation that the show was conceived by the artist himself.

My own research suggests that On Kawara had been to Dallas at least twice during the self-observation series years. First, for one day on the way back from the 1973 American road-trip. And a second longer stop in 1975 that I recorded in this way in the 1975 essay:

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This is a red herring though. On Kawara did not incorporate this site-specific aspect into his new curatorial idea. In any case, even if he had visited Dallas Museum of Art in 1975 (which he probably did, as to visit a city's art museums was his regular habit), the location of an enlarged DMA had changed in the 1990s. Below is a diagram of the space that was made available to him. As we know from On Kawara's previous exhibition at the Ikon and his subsequent one at the Guggenheim, the artist liked to work with scale models and diagrams of the actual spaces.

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Although the catalogue was prepared before the arrangement of the show was decided on, Dallas Museum of Art has a comprehensive set of images of the show on a page of their website. I'm hoping they don't mind my using those images to bring the space - and On Kawara's vision - to life.

You see the entrance at the foot of the above diagram. Below is how it looked walking into the show from there, coming in from the right:

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First glimpse of size 'H' paintings in the distance. Though it's not the paintings' size that gives the main initial impression. Rather, the sense of space is overwhelming. This is some gallery. There seems to be a wind-blown desert vibe going on with these images, but that's fine. Dallas is in Texas, after all.

I'm going to go through the whole show, not in the order that On Kawara came up with it, because I couldn't be sure of that, but in order to maximise pleasure for you, dear reader.

So first let's take look at the Million Years work, which was installed in the Nancy and Tim Hanley Gallery, top left of the previous diagram. First, the approach to the gallery, beyond a relaxation area and to the right of the Sculpture Garden:

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As you can just about see, there are four tables in the gallery. Each table-top holds five volumes of Million Years, as below. Two tables for Million Years Past and two for Million Years Future. As a virtual visitor, circle the first two tables. The vastness of time that's behind us. Switch to a circuit of tables three and four. The vastness of time that can never be available to us.

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We now walk to the gallery that's diagonally opposite, being the Cindy and Howard Rachofsky Gallery. The way that 'I MET', 'I WENT' and 'I READ' has been laid out is slightly more involved so I've annotated the basic DMA diagram.

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In the Rachofsky Gallery itself, on the left, were two tables (shaded yellow in the above diagram) where the original I MET volumes were to be found.

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Each daily list of names is in a protective transparent plastic sleeve.

On the other two tables (shaded green in the above diagram) are the original 'I WENT' maps, archived and shown in the same way as 'I MET' for the whole period 1968 to 1979. Exactly the same number of pages, one per day. Plus a few more of both I Met and I WENT if the artist changed cities in any one day. Hence 4772 + 4772.


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These tables are designed to be covered with a transparent hard plastic casing. In other words, there is no invitation to search amongst the material to see who On Kawara met on specific days, or where he went.

In the middle of the whole gallery were the two 'I READ' tables, again ring-binders holding the original sheets relating to each Date Painting. In contrast, 'I GOT UP' had no presence in the show. I suspect this was because the postcards would have been with Michelle Didier in France. She published her limited edition version of 'I GOT UP' in 2008, so that initiative was going on simultaneously. She had already collaborated with On Kawara to produce 90 sets of 'I MET' in 2004 and 'I WENT' in 2007, and these books were shown just outside the Rachofsky Gallery where the originals were shown. See the above diagram as well as the photo below.

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Unfortunately, transparent casing was again used so that the show's audience could not handle the books. Although the idea was to make the information more widely available, the limited size of the edition meant that the books were still immensely valuable and so not made available to be browsed.

Four maps to look at in the bound volumes. That's your lot. Or rather that was the lot of those who attended the show.

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The self-observation years from 1968 to 1979 represent some kind of balance to the Million Years Past and Future. These were twelve years in the middle of On Kawara's life when the days truly belonged to him. He was fully conscious that he was alive and he had the energy, vision and resolve to manifest this glorious fact in marvellously restrained work.

And so we get to the meat of the show. That five day-period in 1969 when both On Kawara and his adopted country were at their best. Those days in which On Kawara painted the Moon Landing triptych.

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That's a photo of the Gayle and Paul Stoffel Gallery. Clearly, On Kawara thought the Apollo 11 Moon mission was a special event and needed commemorating to the max. The subtitles are:

JULY16,1969: "Neil A. Armstrong, Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., Michael Collins." That's who was in the rocket when it blasted off from the Texas desert.

JULY20,1969: "Man Walks on the Moon."

JULY21, 1969: "Apollo 11 at the Distance of 238,857 Miles from the Earth." That's the day that the lunar module also splashed down in the Pacific.

But the show in Dallas was conceived nearly forty years later, and On Kawara had moved on. I'll annotate the basic diagram to show where all ten of his size 'H' paintings were hung.

Another three in the Mary Noel and Bill Lamont Gallery that was diagonally opposite the Stoffel Gallery. And the remaining four divided into pairs, facing each other in the overarching gallery space. Like so:

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I need to say something about these paintings. But first let me quote from the catalogue essay written by Charles Wylie, the curator at DMA that helped On Kawara achieve his vision:

'In the gallery diagonally opposite the Moon Landing paintings are installed three more of the artist's largest-scale paintings…"

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"…Like those of the Moon Landing works and those in the Barrel Vault, the dimensions of these works suggest some major significance in those days' events, but in this case the artist has not provided that information. (We must imagine these days - what happened and why, who was involved, where we were - for ourselves.) Kawara, as an artist, does not, in fact, wish to be quoted nor to have his ideas and thoughts paraphrased: his project is not that of subjective autobiography, but of a steady, disciplined recording, in universally recognised and accepted objective terms, of experience and time that stretches from the year 1966 to today. Ours is the task of receiving and thinking about this singular life work.'


Over to me, then. I will go through the 'other' seven size 'H' date paintings in chronological order. When the artist painted size 'H' paintings in 1978, he made three of them.

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Possibly he was thinking of them as a triptych, in relation to the 1969 triptych. But maybe not. Because he allowed two of them to go to Germany and be shown at the Rüdiger Schöttle Gallery in Munich in the spring of 1979. The other size 'H' from 1978 stayed in America, and was bought by the Art Institute of Chicago. In any case, one of these three pictures - one that had been shown in Munich, OCT.29,1978 - was badly damaged in transit and had to be destroyed. At which point the artist may have begun to think of these post-Apollo 11 size 'H' paintings in a different way, if he hadn't been doing so from the time he first thought of painting them.

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The next go at the very large Date Paintings was four years later. The fact that one was again made in late-October and the other in mid-November is suggestive. Is it? Perhaps it suggests that there were technical issues involved when painting letters and numbers at such a large scale, and On Kawara felt more comfortable sticking to OCT. and NOV. But I wouldn't want to make too much of that. Another possibility is that On Kawara was thinking of his OCT./NOV. effort of 1978 with nostalgia when he embarked on the 1982 effort. After all, much had changed in his life. Akito had just been a few months old in autumn of 1978, while four years later, he had two fast-growing, pre-school children, Akito and Sahe.

OCT.31, 1978 NOV.13,1978
OCT.27, 1882 NOV.18,1982

The next Size 'H' Date painting effort came in 1984. This time it was APR.22 and SEP.8 that were commemorated. Did anything special happen on those days? It was about this time that On and his family had begun to spend their summers in Japan. So the two paintings, made in New York, have a Japanese summer separating their manufacture. Perhaps this meant something to On. Perhaps it meant a lot to him.

Is the fact that the final painting 'MAY 1, 1987', is shown with the two 1984 Dates of any significance? Are we to think of these three paintings in a single gallery as a triptych? Possibly. But I think the most significant thing about them is that they complete a week of size 'H' paintings made over
a decade. In other words, I see the exhibition like this:

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I would suggest it was deliberate that the artist took a decade to complete this single week of Days. After all, every single Date Painting had been sub-titled with the day of the week it had been painted from late-1972 until 5 FEB.2006 when the sub-title 'To view the earth with cosmic consciousness' was come up with.

When On Kawara gave that sub-title to the small painting that Dallas was acquiring, along with four more similar-sized Dates, one from each decade starting with 1966, he knew exactly what he was going to do in this show. I can see why he didn't make the pattern obvious, though. The information is more satisfying when it's half-hidden by the artist, and hard-won by the spectator. I'm almost doing you a disfavour by writing this essay. But not quite.

Let us now view the Earth with cosmic consciousness. Standing on the Moon is just the place to do that. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would have been told that on the Moon, the satellite's surface was in sunlight for 14 of our days, then it was in darkness for 14 days. If our species had evolved on the Moon over millions of years then it's likely that our day would be 28 Earth days long. We would be having sleeps that were more like hibernations than the brief eight hours' kip we're used to. There would be just 12 days in a year!

In other words, just as on Earth, the presence or absence of the heat and light from the sun is the main organising principle of life. We are active when we have heat and light, and in the absence of these then it's best to retreat into unconsciousness, saving our resources for when the sun next appears. (Of course for some creatures, like bats and owls, the reverse is true. These creatures have evolved in a particular, you might say 'perverse' way.)

A 'day' is a completely natural thing, light/warm then dark/cold. The principle unit/division of time is the day. But what about the week? That is a completely cultural thing, an arbitrary unit of time. And yet it has been adopted over much of our planet. We work for five days and then the weekend is a time of rest. We all grow up with these notions of 'Monday', 'Tuesday', 'Wednesday', 'Thursday', 'Friday', 'Saturday' and 'Sunday'. Perhaps On Kawara was resisting this when he made those Date Paintings for eight consecutive days in 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2002. But then in his 'Pure Consciousness' show, which is still touring, he went for seven days in a row from the beginning of 1997, knowing that those paintings stood for the days of the week.

Say 'Friday' and my mind lights up. Say 'Saturday' and my mind lights up again. Actually, say any day of the week and my mind lights up in the same way. I'm no pessimist. I love life. I want to keep living the days. Mon-day at a time. Tues-day at a time. Wednes-day at a time.

"
Where the fuck did Monday go?" Asked David Bowie on his final album.

"Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday born, I was Thursday's Child." That's David again, a little earlier in his career.

'
Friday on my mind', he sang very early in his career. A song written and first-performed by the Easybeats which begins:

Monday mornin' feels so bad,
Ev'rybody seems to nag me.
Comin' Tuesday I feel better,
Even my old man looks good.
Wed'sday just don't go.
Thursday goes too slow.
I've got Friday on my mind…

Gonna have fun in the city-y-y.
Be with my girl, she's so pretty-y-y.
She looks fine tonight.
She is out of sight, to me.
Tonight! I'll spend my bread,
Tonight! I’ll lose my head,
Tonight! I've got to get toni-i-i-ight.
Monday I'll have Friday on my mind…


But let's return to Buzz and Neil Armstrong, standing on the Moon, looking towards the blue marble called planet Earth…

Neil: "Let's play a word association game."

Buzz: "Sure thing."

Neil: "Monday."

Buzz "
Picture Book."

Neil: "Tuesday."

Buzz: "
Andy Pandy."

Neil: "Wednesday."

Buzz: "
The Flowerpot Men."

Neil: "Thursday."

Buzz: "
Rag, Tag and Bobtail."

Neil: "Friday."

Buzz: "
The Woodentops."

Neil: "Saturday."

Buzz: "
Doctor Who…No, Match of the Day."

Neil: "You were a TV kid, weren't you?"

Buzz: "I prefer the phrase 'Babyboomer'. It's the sight of that marvellous blue marble. It reminds me of our first, black-and-white telly. Its glowing light made the rest of the room feel quiet and cold."

Neil: "Just look at it! You could fly a million miles in any other direction and fail to find the slightest sign of life."

Buzz: "Beautiful view. Turn around and you can have any colour as long as it's black."

Neil: "Isn't that something! Magnificent sight out here."

Buzz: "Magnificent desolation."

Time to let the people in to see the show. I'm referring to the opening in mid-May, 2008. On Kawara wasn't there, but his immediate family was, and the Dallas Museum of Art has a remarkable set of photos on their website, though the photographer isn't credited. Again I hope the DMA will permit me to make use of a few of them.

In this first picture, we have Hiroko in the centre. On one side of her are Angela Choong of David Zwirmer Gallery and Charles Wylie, of the DMA, the show's curator. On the other side are Hiroko and On's children, Sahe and Akito.

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Hiroko is aged 71 in this photo, Akito 30 and Sahe 28 and a half. They all look in full bloom and in fine health.

In this next photo, both Akito and Sahe look young for their age. And look how they are listening respectfully to the director of the Museum. The children of such intelligent, fair-minded and wise parents as On and Hiroko will surely keep their respect for their elders for much longer than is customary in members of the younger generation.


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Below, Hiroko, I like to think, is being asked when her children were born. "Akito was born on October 31, 1978. On was so pleased that he felt he just had to register the birth with a size 'H' painting."

Encouraged by the amusement of her children, Hiroko carries on the joke. "Sahe was born four years later. She was due on October 27, 1982, but didn't pop out until November 18. On almost ran out of paint."


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I think On's family enjoyed the show. It's likely that Charles Wylie had insight into the work that he was able to communicate to the family. It is certain that Hiroko had bucketfuls of insight into what was all around them, but whether she shared it with those present, I wouldn't like to guess.

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Shall I? Oh, go on then!

The older gentleman in the photo below has told Hiroko that he would like to explore the 'I MET' and 'I WENT' files in order to see how On spent the five days of the moon landing.

Hiroko: "He never left the studio all day.
AUG.16,1969 was very hard for him. Scaling up the letters for the first time, he nearly ran out of time. I brought him food, and a friend, and we tried to reassure him that all was well. Not that he needed reassurance. On was always in control. Complete control."

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The older gentleman understands that much.

Hiroko: "On didn't leave the studio on AUG.20 either. It was another red dot day. That was a Sunday. Luckily things went more quickly for him and he was finished by the time the astronauts descended from the lunar module onto the Moon. That would be at about 11 pm. On was so excited, to be watching the American astronauts take those first steps on the Moon, while his own finished Date glistened on the wall. I kept looking between the TV and the canvas."


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"Monday's Date Painting, 21.AUG,1969, was finished by mid-evening and Hirotsugo and I got On out of the studio and into a restaurant for something to eat. He was so happy. It was as if he had been walking on the Moon himself."

A little later:

Hiroko: "I am so pleased to meet you in the flesh at last."

John R. Lane: "Emm.. How do you mean?"



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"May I call you Neil? Tell me, what colour of tie were you wearing underneath your spacesuit in the summer of 1969. Was it a red silk one with polka-dot moon decoration?"

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"You've got the right man, Hiroko. I was wearing a suit of Italian linen under my space suit ready for the post-splashdown party. And On? Did he have tubes of oxygen strapped to his back as he was painting his Date?"

"Of course! Every time you vented the ox on the Moon, he would vent the ox in his Manhattan studio loft."

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Hard to understand why On would opt out of an occasion such as this. His glorious work on display. His glorious family proud of his work. He didn't want to be photographed, that's the first thing. And nor was he interested in the babble of self-interested art chatter.

May 18, 2008, was a Sunday. So I expect the opening event was on the Saturday night. Jonathan Watkins had made an arrangement with On to see the Dallas show. Not the opening itself, of course. Jonathan stayed in On's spare room in New York, but the artist was not well enough to travel with him to Dallas. Jonathan reckons that it was his eyes or his teeth that we're bothering him. He does not think it was the lung cancer, the illness that would eventually be the cause of his death.

On hadn't made a Date painting since April 12, 2008, and wouldn't until May 29, 2008. That's a month-and-a-half between Date Paintings. Perhaps I should set out On's monthly productivity for the year: 2, 3, 2, 1, 2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 2, 3, 3. A total of 30 Date Paintings. Never more than three Dates in a month, which was unheard of. And a total of only 30 in the year. A record low.

In February of 2008, On had been in China, perhaps for the first time, and made Dates in Shanghai (below, left) and Peking (below, right).

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The dates sub-titles are 'Tuesday' and 'Thursday', respectively. A Tuesday spent in Shanghai. A Thursday spent in Peking.

These are the final two cities in
Date Painting in New York and 136 Other Cities. Now since the book was published in 2012, and the New York section of the book goes on to include paintings made in 2009, 2010 and 2011, I think we can surmise that On's travelling had come to an end, or had been heavily circumscribed for health reasons.

Oh, dear. Are we nearing the end? I feel we are.

Funny how such a high point as the Dallas show comes fairly close to the end point.

What day is it? It's Friday, May 6, 2022. I've got FRIDAY on my mind. Where is that painting now? The FRIDAY painting is MAY1,1987. At the time of the Dallas exhibition it was owned by the Mugrabi Collection, New York. In 2014 it was up for sale at Christie's and the Provenance was as follows:

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It was in 2007 that the painting entered the Mugrabi Collection. So that painting, FRIDAY, has been on the move over the years. But the other six I'm a little surer of…

MONDAY, belongs to Reiner Speck, Cologne. This photo was taken of it for Candida Hofer's book. I suppose the pot plant gives an idea of scale. It must be a large pot.

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TUESDAY, can be seen at the Art Institute of Chicago.

WEDNESDAY is with Louise and Leonard Riggio in New York. This photo, with a boardroom set-up, was taken of it for Candida Hofer's book:

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THURSDAY can be seen in the Lafrenz Collection, Hamburg. Below is photo of it, courtesy of Candida Hofer. How slapdash of the owner to show it resting on the floor against a wall that is not even big enough to showcase the painting! And the empty frame in the background! And the metal-edged coffee table! Quite funny really.

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SATURDAY is owned by the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art.

SUNDAY is owned by Hauser and Wirth, Zurich.

Let's put all that info together and consider a map of On Kawara's days of the week. Remember FRIDAY is a floating day. The other size 'H' days are located in the United States (two), Central Europe (three) and Japan (one). A map that fits quite closely to On Kawara's travel itinerary over his last three decades. All six paintings occupy pretty much the same latitude in the Northern Hemisphere. It's where the wealth is.

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Cut to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin standing on the Moon, waiting for a new day to dawn on Earth.

Buzz: "At the moment I can see Monday, Thursday and Sunday… In 24 hours I'll be looking square-on to Tuesday and Wednesday…24 hours ago we would have been looking down on Saturday."

Neil: "Surely it's one day at time, Buzz? With one day waxing and the next one waning, at most."

Buzz: "Get up to speed, Neil. We are viewing the Earth with cosmic consciousness, remember."

Neil: "I've got Friday on my mind?"

Buzz: "Now you're at the party!"

Neil: "Let's see… Everything that ever happened to me, happened on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday. My first kiss. My marriage. My first child. It's a perfect, closed system."

Buzz: "Everything that ever happened to anyone happened on one of those days. War. Earthquake. Volcanic eruption. Rape. Pillage. Drought."

Neil: "And the good things!"

Buzz:
"Monday mornin' feels so bad,
Ev'rybody seems to nag me.
Comin' Tuesday I feel better,
Even my old man looks good.
Wed'sday just don't go.
Thursday goes too slow.
I've got Friday on my mind…"


Back on planet Earth I have come to the end of this essay. Just when the Dallas show has settled down into something hard and clear in my mind.

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I would just add that there is a yellow post-it note on my desk, which reads:

SATURDAY
Mow lawn
Plant potatoes, broad beans, beetroot
Fish shop


I know what all that means. It means if things go to plan I'll be Date Painting by SUNDAY. Let's try it out for size: MAY8,2022

That's exactly a year and a day after I made my first Date Painting: MAY7,2021.

It won't be size 'H', as I can't source such a large canvas in time. Or enough paint. Or big enough brushes. And where would I put it when it was painted? Leaning up against a wall is not an acceptable option, and I have no access to a boardroom. I'd like to think I will paint a date that size one day, but not yet.

Meanwhile, it is FRIDAY evening and I have wine aplenty and a sound system that's primed and ready to rock 'n' roll.