1967






On Kawara got rid of his spacious studio at 405 East 13th Street in February 1967, having just a few months before persuaded Hiroko Hiraoka to move her studio and their apartment from Chambers Street to 340 East 13th Street. It seems the ideal work/life balance was still a work-in-progress.

But the work came first, so let's think that through. On Kawara's own end-of-'66 assessment may have concluded that he only needed a relatively small space for his painting and making processes, but a large space for storing his output. He had made 241 Date Paintings in 1966, and he intended to carry on producing in numbers along these lines, at least for five years. Where was he going to put them all?

Mounting the paintings on studio walls wouldn't have seemed like a long term solution. In fact, by December 1966, he'd run out of wall space, doubling up on the rows, at least in his office. Though it's true to say that there was so much wall space in the warehouse part of the studio, that On Kawara
could have come up with a scheme that would have kept him there for a few years. Though it would have involved a lot of walking up and down a ladder.

Perhaps he was drawn to making boxes for the pictures, and to storing these boxes in piles or on shelves. For that he would need much less space.

I suspect he began hand-making the boxes (Lynne Tillman suggests On Kawara made the boxes himself in her essay 'On Kawara, Art of His Time') at the start of February, 1967. The third of February is the first Date Painting to have a cutting from a newspaper included in the box alongside the Date Painting itself. Obviously, the artist wouldn't have done this retrospectively. Since October 1966 he'd been keeping an 'I READ' file, but it's unlikely that he would have kept the rest of the paper. In any case, the whole point was that the Date Painting was completed on the day. You didn't keep going back to the Date Painting and fiddle around with it! Well, On Kawara
did go back and make boxes for his earlier Date Paintings, beginning with 4 Jan, 1966. Here it is on display at the Guggenheim in 2015.

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York/London.

And here is the empty box that goes with a painting from the middle of that first year. As reproduced in Date Paintings in 89 Cities, the catalogue for a show that toured from 1991 to 1993.

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Reproduced from On Kawara: Date Paintings in 89 Cities with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders.

Below is the only photo I can trace of a 1967 date painting showing its box and the trimmed front page of a daily newspaper. This is a size B picture. The fact that the paper does not neatly fit into the size of the box (it nearly does, but some of the first column has had to be trimmed off) confirms to my mind that the boxed newspaper aspect of date paintings had not been thought through from the outset.



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Though I can see why On Kawara included the newspaper cuttings once he had established the boxes. In an essay called 'Intersecting Parallels' that appears in
On Kawara 1976 Berlin 1986, Wolfgang Max Faust quotes On Kawara as having said to him in 1986: "Europeans can't really understand the Japanese. For them 'one' is the basis for thinking. For the Japanese 'complements' permeate all thought."

In this case, hand-painted
complements machine-printed. Common newsprint complements archival materials. News of the outside world complements the inner world of one man.

But back to the beginning of 1967. The plan may have been for On Kawara to have lived and worked in the much smaller studio/apartment at 340 East 13th Street. However, the subtitles of the date paintings suggest that the situation was more complex, and that On Kawara was given other options.

He painted 20 date paintings in January. Maybe he was making the first boxes then as well, after all he had time on his hands while the paint dried. On Feb 4 the subtitle reads: "C. Oldenburg and J, Klein came to my studio this afternoon. In the evening I went to Oldenburg's studio to ask him if I could use my asking him as the title of this painting." That suggests the subtle way that On Kawara was going about things. Networking mindfully, one could say.

The subtitle for the painting reproduced below is "Da Vinci's manuscripts which were produced between 1491 and 1505." Why did On Kawara choose this from his reading of that day's paper?

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On Kawara, FEB. 14, 1967, 1967. Dia Art Foundation; Gift of Lannan Foundation. © One Million Years Foundation. Photo: Bill Jacobson Studio, New York

Perhaps because the long consideration of the numerals 1,4,1 and 9 while painting the picture, caused the 1491 date to lodge in his mind. Which may have led to other thoughts. Was On Kawara going to produce date paintings for 15 years? Which would take him to the year 1981, by which time he might have 15 x 200 = 3000 paintings to store. This kind of speculative conjecture is all too easy, around the Date Paintings, and I shouldn't give it too much emphasis.

Although the subtitle of April 27, 1967 reads "Today I met John Chamberlain. He took my studio last February," I like to think On Kawara was still in his big studio on February the 4th. I think it would have helped On Kawara professionally for his fellow artists to see what he was doing and to be blown away by it.

Indeed. I will just say at this point what a magnificent thing that first, large studio was. The sight of all the Date Paintings from January to December, 1966, displayed around the space would have had an enormous impact on those who saw it. Those of a certain sensibility, anyway. On Kawara was going to go on to produce some amazing spaces, often with the collaboration of curators and gallery owners. But never again one of such raw splendour, when all was sudden realisation and endless potential.

Clearly he was out of that studio by the end of February, 1967. And it's in March that a very important subtitle announces: "Peter, Reeva, Kasper and Barbara came to my apartment just before midnight." (He means the apartment that he shared with Hiroko Hiraoka.) Peter and Reeva were two of the guests that had visited On Kawara in his massive studio the previous summer and had a 'hot discussion about art'. This time they were joined by Kasper König, art dealer, and his partner, Barbara Brown, photographer.

Interestingly, in Phaidon's
On Kawara, Barbara Brown states that she first met O.K. on April 22, 1967. That's a specific date, and I'd like to know the reason she chooses it. But one can't trust that date against an On Kawara date, that would be foolish in the extreme. What Barbara Brown also tells us, is that On Kawara was a master of board games: Japanese chess, mah jong and go. Apparently it was On Kawara's philosophy that one should take an interest in something that complemented one's profession. In fact, Barbara suggests that game-playing was On Kawara'a true profession, and painting simply something that he loved to do. I don't quite follow that. Maybe it's what On Kawara said to her on April 22, 1967, and it stuck in her mind, date and all.

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York/London.

I wonder what the ownership history of this painting is. I really do.

A quick internet search tells me that it was sold at Bonham's in 2007. The sales information tells us that instead of the box being lined with a section of a page from a New York newspaper, it's lined with a collage made from clippings of cinema and theatre listings. Bonham's also references a photo, taken in Los Angeles, on the inside back cover of the
On Kawara continuity/discontinuity catalogue of 1980. Sure enough:

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I am going to give this West Coast kid the benefit of the doubt and suggest he is staring at the Date Painting rather than the TV.

The television looks so dated; the On Kawara painting looks so Today. No wonder the child is engrossed in it!


Kasper König became a lifelong friend of On Kawara, and he appears in videos to promote the Guggenheim show of 2015. He was born in 1944, was nearly 10 years younger than On Kawara, and
was clearly a sharp operator, being thought of as sort of 'James Bond of the art world' by Barbara Brown. He was living in New York, representing both a private and a public European gallery. According to art historian Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, when Kasper König decided that an artist was crucial, he moved heaven and earth to back him up. Claes Oldenburg later got a solo show at the Modern Museum of Art in Stockholm, off the back of König's support. Kawara would do well from the liaison too. Indeed, in 1989 König curated a show, Again and Against, juxtaposing Date Paintings from 1966 to 1988 against works by twenty-four other ground-breaking artists of the time. That show is archived online and the painting reproduced for it is the one below, made just two days after the meeting referred to in the subtitle of MAR.9,1967.

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York/London.

Actually, it's worth reproducing how the page looks on my screen in 2021. Because - you must understand - the event has already happened!

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In the Tribute section of the Phaidon monograph on On Kawara, edited by Jonathan Watkins, Barbara Brown tells us that for several years she and Kasper stored On Kawara's work in the loft they shared on East Broadway. Well, I expect that such an arrangement began in 1967 and that was when
MAR.11,1967 came into Kasper König's possession. As we'll see, it may well have been a gift.

Of course, there is a counter to that argument. Why did On Kawara not gift
MAR.9,1967? Perhaps he did. The fact is, although it may not seem that way, there are images available of only a small fraction of the Date Paintings. Certain ones circulate around the world, via galleries and the internet. Others hang on the walls of exclusive, private houses. Shining in the dark, one might say. But no - never shining in the dark - surely the Los Angeles photo proves that.

APR.12,1967. The date painting's subtitle reads: "Rudolf Zwirner, Kasper König and I were in my apartment this afternoon from 1.00 to 2.30p.m." A hot discussion about business? Rudolf Zwirner opened a gallery in Cologne in 1963 and would go on to organise the world's first Art Fair in Cologne in 1967. His son, David Zwirner, is the New York gallerist who I'm acknowledging in the captions of the On Kawara reproductions. A hot, hot meeting about art, business, the universe and everything.

May 12, 1967. Subtitle: "Petr Alekseevich Kropotkin and Kasper König." Kropotkin was a Russian social theorist, against capitalism and for co-operation, who lived from 1842 until 1921. A hot discussion about politics, then?

Artists Sol Lewitt and Dan Graham were also mentioned in May as having been met that month. Though, of course, On Kawara's subtitles continued to be dominated by the state of the world. References to Viet Nam and China, to conflict everywhere. But not just hard news, trivia also; the affairs of film stars and the results of sports events. Oh, and the continuing exploration of space.

On June 10, the subtitle reads: "Tonight Bob and Sally Manness and I saw Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren in 'A Countess from Hong Kong' at Loew's Sheridan Theatre in New York." I mention this, partly because I have a reproduction of it…

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York/London.

…but also because the Date Painting was given to this Bob and Sally Manness on December 30 of 1967. Below is the label that On Kawara typed and affixed to the inside of the bottom edge of the stretcher, as was his habit.

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The artist's plan had been not to sell any of the Today series paintings for at least five years, because this could make it more difficult to show them together. However, to give paintings to friends or family was another matter. Such gifts could always be lent back for exhibition purposes. This suggests a nature that was both generous and not too precious.

On Kawara has signed this typed label in Japanese. The back of the actual painting (also signed in Japanese) gives clues as to how the background colour of the painting was built up, with a layer of red and of white as well as near-black.

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During July, all five of the date paintings from July 13 to July 17 are subtitled simply "Newark." This is explained by the fact that the Newark riots were happening in the city that bordered New York, the subtile of July 12 quoting a newspaper report "Negro taxi driver John W Smith was stopped by 2 patrolmen at 9.45 tonight in Newark." On the one hand, understated. On the other - five paintings over five days - a mediation on, and commitment to, enlightened race relations.

On Kawara reported that he had a dull pain in his eyes as the sub-title immediately preceding these pictures, on July 10, and he did not do any date painting for 16 days. Perhaps he caught up with his box making. Then on August 6, he got to his painting work again, though the subtitle again reports: "I have pain in my eyes." This time the artist rests for 14 days before getting back to the fine brush and the razor blade. This must have been a worrying time for the artist. He needed his sight if he was going to achieve what he wanted to in life. Sept.16, 1967: "I still have a pain in my eyes." Another ten days off. Did that do the trick? Perhaps it did. On Kawara does not mention it again, not in 1967 anyway.

On October 12: "Dan Graham brought Joseph Kosuth to my apartment this afternoon." Both were major artists of the day. On October 28, the subtitle reads "Jiro Takamatsu called me up this afternoon when I was reading 'Ninjabugeicho'" Contact with yet another major artist. And mention of the Japanese martial arts graphic book, an equivalent to the Marvel Comics that I was reading at the time. Just goes to show that everything connects: hard work and fame; one artist and another artist; a 34-year-old Japanese artist in New York and a ten-year-old boy walking the streets of Hamilton, Scotland.

In November, On Kawara took this picture of the studio/apartment he shared with Hiroko Hiraoka. Of course, the photo may have been taken any time after November 6, 1967, but if so I believe On Kawara would have shown us a more up-to-date painting.

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York/London.

There are about two-hundred boxes shown, covering sizes A to E. The artist had not attempted anything bigger by this date, except the rejected painting of September 20, 1966. I expect that the specially made bookcase doesn't extend much further to the left, because, if so, On Kawara could have afforded to shift his viewfinder to the left without cutting out any of the shelving on the right-hand side.

So where were the other date paintings to be found? There would be about 400 in all by this time. I expect they were with Kasper
König and Barbara Brown at 65 East Broadway, which I've marked on the map below, south of the studios on East 13th Street and not that far from Hiroko Hiraoko's old studio/apartment on Chambers Street.

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I expect On Kawara was a regular visitor, with several boxed Date Paintings in a suitcase. Below is a bird's eye view. Number 65 is the block between the large end-block and the yellow one. These are 2021 Google photos remember, so it just goes to show that the fabric of On Kawara's Manhattan has not changed much


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1967 was year of consolidation for On Kawara.

It was the year of the cardboard box.

It was a relatively modest year, between two years of huge ideas that would have enormous impact on the art world.

Roll on, 1968, where On Kawara would take his art practice to another place and onto another level.

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Artist Gene Colan. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, Magazine management Co., Inc., Marvel Comics Group.

Actually, that has me going back through 1967's subtitles and pausing at these two:

FEB.28,1967: "A mysterious student has been attending a class at Oregon State University for the past 2 months enveloped in a big black bag. Only his bare feet show."

MAY 21,1967: "Two or three men knocked on the door of my apartment tonight. Without opening the door I asked 'What's wrong with you?' One of them said, 'It's all right if you are there'."

All right if On Kawara was there? In New York? But what would happen if he suddenly had an urge to move around the world?

Have Date Painting will travel.