1990



I could have treated On Kawara's 1989 to an essay in itself, and have decided to do that for 1990. Throughout this year, On Kawara was back to operating at full stretch. Though now he was Date Painting in an art world context rather than a primarily personal one, which is a subtle change.

ONE: JANUARY

The year started in Barcelona. His work was appearing at Fundació Caixa de Pensions in a show called 'Time Span', alongside the work of Jenny Holzer, Lawrence Weiner and Bruce Nauman. But the unusual thing was that not only was On Kawara in Spain as the show opened, but the paintings he made there on January 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 were part of the show. Now that is pretty much unheard of at this stage in his career. But one can see how his experience with 'Again and Against' might have led to the development. I should be able to say more about 'Time Span' when the catalogue arrives. For now, here is one of those Barcelona Dates. It appears in
89 Cities:


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

The slim catalogue has arrived. And the first thing that strikes me is that the essay, 'Imitation of Voices', comes in three languages. It was Witten in Catalan, then translated into Spanish and English.

Here is the piece that was installed by Lawrence Weiner, or on his behalf:

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Copyright, Fundacio Caixa De Pensions


In this case, a third language - Spanish - is omitted. And so in a very simple way, a big political statement is made.

I see now why On Kawara had to travel to Barcelona to make his Date Paintings. He had never painted a Date in the Catalan language before. He had painted the date in Spanish many times while in Mexico and South America, and Spanish is one of the official languages of Catalonia. But a Spanish Date Painting, or Date Paintings, was no good for his purpose, his political purpose.

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Copyright, Fundacio Caixa De Pensions

The show was up between 19 January and 25 February, 1990. On Kawara's contribution was five consecutive Date Paintings from the 9th to the 13th of January, 1990. Each one written in Catalan. The word for January in Catalan is 'Gener' and the word for January in Spanish is 'Enero'. Draw your own conclusions.

Earlier in this essay, I reproduced
12GEN.1990. The headline in the accompanying newspaper was in Catalan. Which translates as follows:

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The 136 Cities book reproduces 13GEN.1990 as follows:

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


The headline In the boxed newspaper reads/translates as follows:

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In conclusion, what a strong statement of support for Catalonia that On Kawara has made. What led to it? Catalonia is not mentioned in any of the subtitles for Date Paintings made between 1966 and 1973, at which time they stopped being anything other than named days of the week. Until then, politics was dominated by, above all, the Vietnam war. It wasn't until the late seventies that Catalonia became an overt political subject and reported in the news. General Franco kept an iron grip on Spain until he died in 1975. As Wikipedia states: 'Catalonia voted for the adoption of a democratic Spanish Constitution in 1978, in which Catalonia recovered political and cultural autonomy, restoring the Generalitat (exiled since the end of the Civil War in 1939) in 1977, and adopting a new Statute of Autonomy in 1979, which defined Catalonia as a "nationality".'

I expect Catalonia's quest for independence and autonomy crops up in On Kawara's 'I READ' in the 1980s, which is a book I have neglected during this project, partly because I have limited access to it.

The Bruce Nauman and Jenny Holzer pieces complemented the On Kawara and the Laurence Weiner ones. It was an international group exhibition that made a lot of sense. However, I won't describe the Naumann or the Holzer as that goes beyond the remit of this essay.

I've changed my mind. Here is the Bruce Nauman double-page. The word 'WAR' lights up in reverse order of letters: R… A… W…

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Copyright, Fundacio Caixa De Pensions

That's simple enough to require no translation. It's also got a Spain v Catalonia vibe to it.

And here is the Jenny Holzer installation shot:

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Copyright, Fundacio Caixa De Pensions

That's all in English. The coloured panels on the right are called 'Inflammatory Essays'. Obviously you need to read a sample. So here is one close up:

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Jenny Holzer, Inflammatory Essay, 1978-1983

Each differently coloured 'essay' is indeed inflammatory. They are painful to read in their dogmatism. On the other hand, they are no doubt excruciatingly relevant to the Spain/Catalonia schism.

Strange title, 'TIME SPAN', given that only the On Kawara piece deals with time. In English, the title is an anagram of MET SPAIN. While E SPAN is suggestive also. Perhaps it means SPAIN in an as yet unknown European language!

For me, in the end, TIME SPAN is the five-day period from January 9 to January 13, 1990, when On Kawara sat alone somewhere in Barcelona, a Catalan supporter from the top of his fair-minded head to the tip of his exquisite brush.




TWO: APRIL

By the beginning of April, On Kawara was in Sydney. Why? Because that's where (at the Ivan Dougherty Gallery) the fourth leg of 'Again and Against' was showing from April 5 to May 5. This time the 23 Date paintings by On Kawara that had been part of the first three legs were joined by a 24th Date Painting,
SEPT.10,1989. Was this painted in Sydney? I don't think so, but I don't know. Anyway, April 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, 1990, were painted in Sydney, though they weren't part of the show.

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

The 24 Date Paintings were shown in conjunction with work by 24 artists chosen from the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, by the local curator, Linda Michael. So there was Robert Indiana's Love, (1972), which had been on the cover of American Art in Belgium, and commented on in my essay for 1977. There were also works by Richard Hamilton (1970), Cindy Sherman (1983) and Barbara Kruger (1985). Below is an installation shot of part of the exhibition, showing Date Paintings made from 1984 to 1989. The non-Kawara at the end of the line is by Peter Tyndall. It's titled A Person Looks At A Work of Art / someone looking at something.

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Although that may be interesting, the fourth leg of 'Again and Against' could hardly compete with an exhibition that was happening more or less at the same time back in Europe. At Le Consortium in Dijon, near Paris:

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Copyright, Le Consortium, Dijon.

As you can see, the suggestion is that On Kawara curated this show. He seems to have been bearing in mind 'Again and Against', because 'again', 24 Date Paintings by himself were used, one each from 1966 to 1989. But this time they were shown 'against' five bronze sculptures by Giacometti, four featuring elongated female figures, made from 1948 to 1960.

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Copyright, Le Consortium, Dijon.

Below is a list of the museums from where the Giacomettis were borrowed. Was a special effort made to borrow all female figures? On Kawara is not known for his work from a female perspective. The telegrams don't say 'HIROKO IS STILL ALIVE'. The postcards don't say 'H. GOT UP AT 10.56A.M.'

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Copyright, Le Consortium, Dijon.

However, there are many reasons that may have led to female Giacomettis being sourced, so let's just take that as read and move on to the show. The Date Paintings were arranged in date order, so I know to start with the head, which I take to be in a room, regarding itself in mirror. Recognising oneself in a mirror may be one of the first signs of self-consciousness.

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Copyright, Le Consortium, Dijon.

The second Giacometti encountered is the one below. I believe this is one of the 'Venetian Women'. She is standing in between OCT.26,1973 and AUG.14,1974, looking away from them, with dates from 1975 and 1976 visible to the left.

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Copyright, Le Consortium, Dijon.

One can assume she has lived through 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1976. Whether it has been easy or difficult for her is hard to say. She has been conscious. That may be the most one can say. What a large foot she has. What a large foot she has to have. I don't think she's moved much in the course of those years. I think time has passed as she's stood still.

This show must have been quite a coup for On Kawara, considerable figure in the art world though he was. There continues to be no more highly rated sculptor in the world than Alberto Giacometti, certainly according to his prices on the art market.

The following figure is much taller than the last.
Standing Woman (1959/60). She has her back to JAN21,1982. A date from 1981 is on the wall to her right. Dates from 1983 and 1984 are to her left. Her height makes her seem at a distance from those dates.

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Copyright, Le Consortium, Dijon.

But, unlike in 'Again and Against', the dates (of the Giacomettis: 1948, 1950, 1956, 1956 and 1959/60) don't correspond to the Date Paintings (1966 to 1989). So why were they placed together? I suspect it was because Samuel Beckett had died on December 22, 1989. Although Irish, he was much revered in his adopted homeland of France, and, although I haven't seen it stated anywhere, this extraordinary juxtaposition of work may have been inspired by his memory.

Beckett was also admired by Kawara. OCT.23,1969 was subtitled "In Stockholm, Samuel Beckett was announced today as the winner of the 1969 Nobel Prize in Literature." Dan Graham repeatedly stated that On Kawara's sense of humour was influenced by Beckett. Not just his black and mordant sense of humour, but his minimalist and precise style.

Let me quote from Beckett's novella Worstward Ho, which was published in 1983. The year that the tall standing woman is seen alongside in the above photo:

'On. Say on. Be said on. Somehow on. Till nohow on. Said nohow on.

'Say a body. Where none. No mind,. Where none. That at least. A place. Where none. For the body. To be in. Move in. Out of. Back into. No. No out. No back. Only in. Stay in. On in. Still.

'All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.'

If that doesn't have the hairs rising on the back of your neck, then there's nothing I can say to make that happen. Let's see if On Kawara and Alberto Giacometti can help stir the cold-hearted, pragmatic reader. Next image, please:

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Copyright, Le Consortium, Dijon.

This female figure is smaller. The bulge is belly, not bum. She is facing away from MAY16,1985. A black day in a black year?

'All of old. Nothing else ever. But never so failed. Worse failed. With care never worse failed.'

'No future in this. Alas yes.

'The head. Ask not if it can go. Say no. Unasking no. It cannot go. Save dim go. Then all go. Oh dim go. Go for good. All for good. Good and all.'


So what were the 24 Dates used in the installation? I've been able to identify sixteen of them, thanks to illustrations in the volume about On Kawara published by Phaidon in 2002, and the presence of a poor quality video on Youtube. I mean poor technical quality, the film itself is compelling. Anyway, here are the dates, in conjunction with those used by Kasper König in 'Again and Against', shown at an overlapping time in Sydney:

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As you can see from the various formats and spellings, Kasper König has selected dates from all over the world. After all 'Again and Against' did tour from Frankfurt to Chicago, Nagoya and Sydney. Whereas it would seem that On Kawara chose exclusively 'month followed by day-of-the-month' format dates. Which gives the impression that they were all made in the same place. This suits the context, as Giacomettis figures were not going anywhere fast, and Beckett's characters were not exactly jet-setters either.

Okay, fifth figure of five. With its back to twenty-fourth Date Painting of twenty-four:

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Copyright, Le Consortium, Dijon.

'What were skull to go? As good as go. Into what then black hole? From out what then? What why of all? Better worse so? No. Skull better worse. What left of skull. Of soft. Worst why of all of all. So skull not go. What left of skull not go. Into it still the hole. Into what left of soft. From out what little left.'

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Copyright, Le Consortium, Dijon.

'Enough. Sudden enough. Sudden all far. No move and sudden all far. All least. Three pins. One pinhole. In dimmost dim. Vasts apart. At bounds of boundless void. Whence no farther. Best worse no farther. Nohow less. Nohow worse. Nohow naught. Nohow on.

'Said nohow on.'

From a Beckett point of view, it's a shame that his Nobel Prize-subtitled Date (October 23) is not part of the list of Dates in the Giacometti show. Instead, for 1969, it's SEPT.24,1969. What is its subtitle? "For two days, some 700,000 years ago, the flat-browed Java man looked into the sky and saw a glittering cloud plunging toward the earth."

Hmmm. Not bad for relevance. Better look up the subtitles of the other Dates I've identified, before On Kawara confined himself to days of the week subtitles from the start of 1973:

JUNE1,1966: "Today the Soviet Union proposed to the United Nations that the moon be internationalised."

FEB.71968: "The American-led camp at Lanvei, near Khesanh, South Vietnam, fell today after it had been assaulted by Soviet-made tanks, and in New York Mayor Lindsay issued an ultimatum tonight to the 10,000 striking sanitation workers, ordering them back to their jobs by 7a.m. tomorrow."

MAY31,1970: "An earthquake rocked Peru this afternoon, bringing down homes and buildings and leaving dead and injured in an area spanning half the country. Some towns were reported to have been destroyed."

DEC.22,1971: "Two American jets, darting across North Vietnam today, fired missiles at an anti-aircraft radar site 82 miles southeast of Hanoi."

I think these subtitles are a bit of
a distraction. The standing figure says enough. Consciousness. Day after day. Consciousness. Neither more nor less.

How does that other Beckett text end. The more famous one.

'I must go on. I can't go on. I'll go on.'

Let's bring this back to the art of On Kawara. In the early years of Date Painting, the dates were either shown as sequences, such as the 90-odd made in the first three months, or every Date painted in 1973, or they were shown in a context of On Kawara's self-observation, using his I GOT UP AT, his I MET and his I WENT.

Now that he'd been Date Painting for twenty-four years, the Dates were being used with other artists' work. Notably Alberto Giacometti, but with the four legs of 'Again and Against' showing what else was possible. Of course by this time both Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol were dead, and it must have come to some curator's mind that an On Kawara/Andy Warhol show, using Warhol pieces from each of the years 1966 to 1989, would work well. And that an On Kawara and Joseph Beuys show would also have a lot going for it. Titled, respectively, 'surface and depth' and 'absence and presence'.

Why did such shows not take place? I don't know. There is one particular juxtaposition that I would be keen to curate on this website, but I will leave that until one of the 'GAME ON' pages. And for now I will return to On Kawara's 1990.




THREE: OCTOBER

I expect On Kawara spent the summer in Japan, as usual. He did do a Date Painting on 7 August in Esperanto, with the down-curving lid above the U of AUG. And he did do a Date painting on August 26 in Honolulu, where he may have stopped on the way back to New York. After all, that is what he did in February 1971, after the first of his trips to Japan. He didn't do a Date Painting on that occasion, but did send an 'I GOT UP' Postcard to Hiroko back in New York. This time around, I expect Hiroko was enjoying the break on the Pacific island in the company of On.


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

The format of the Date Painting SEPT.7,1990, suggests he was in New York then. But by October, On was in Rome, which is where the studio photo below was taken. The Date Paintings on view are all from October, 1990. That is, the 20th, 21st, 25th, 26th (all on the wall); 22nd and 27th (leaning on the table); and 28th, in the process of being painted. The angle-poise lamp looks like a small-footed, large-headed, leaning Giacometti, taking an interest on what his fellow artist was doing.

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The set up doesn't look unlike On's studio in New York, which was pictured back in 1979:

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

Not only does he have the same amount of space, but a large bunch of keys is present, as the next image, differently cropped from the previous one, shows. I don't mean the pair of keys on a keyring in the middle of the table with telephone. I mean the bunch of keys close to the Marlboro packet and not far from the two pairs of spectacles.

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Now why would On Kawara have a large bunch of keys in Rome?

Certainly, where On Kawara was painting in Rome in 1990 was no cramped hotel room. The spacious studio may have been set up for him by one of his many art contacts. All seven of the Date Paintings that crop up in the last photo were painted in this studio. Such as this one:

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

What is that paper saying? It doesn't translate easily. Something facetious about who pays for doctors and hospitals if the state can't.

Although On Kawara painted eight Dates in eleven days, I don't think it was part of a set. Three of them, 18.OTT, 20.OTT and 21.OTT ended up in a collection in New York, photographed by Candida Höfer in 2005. Oh, and
25OTT.1990 ended up in Dusseldorf, per another photo of Candida's.

One of the pictures, 27OTT,1990 was recorded in a series of sixteen photographs. Below is photo five. It is the first photo in which 26 OTT,1990. Makes an appearance, so On Kawara may have wanted it to hand to measure some aspect of the image. Perhaps how far up and down the canvas to draw the two horizontal lines. Or perhaps how far from the left edge to begin the first number, the 2. The pencil lettering is actually quite crude considering how fine the final painting will be.

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

The photo below shows that the year was first completed…

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

Then the month…

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

Finally, the day itself…

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

The painting may also have been turned this way when On Kawara was painting the horizontals on the 'T's

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

To begin with, this next image puzzled me. Was it set-up to show that the painter was using a glass to lean the painting on? Then I noticed the hair dryer and realised it is probably the best way to dry the acrylic, to have a jet of hot air pass at right angles over the surface of the canvas.

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

At this stage, corrections would be made both in white and in the dark background colour, so quick drying would be useful.

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

The finished Date Painting:

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

The viewpoints of this sequence of pictures is not quite consistent, and I suspect On Kawara took the photos himself.

What next? Return to Dijon. The following three paintings were made in Dijon just a few days later
. And given to Le Consortium. I think they were painted for that specific reason, to be given to the gallery whose directors were Frank Gautherot and Xavier Douroux. They had showed On Kawara's Date Paintings at Le Consortium in 1985. And the 2002 show 'On Kawara: Consciousness, Meditation, Watcher on the Hill' went to Le Consortium, Dijon as the first stop on a world tour after its inaugural appearance at Ikon, Birmingham. In other words Frank and Xavier became important On Kawara supporters, and their own enterprise needed to be rewarded

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Copyright, Le Consortium, Dijon.

Above is how the paintings appeared in a group show called The 1980s. They also appeared in 2017 with a Giacometti bronze.

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Copyright, Le Consortium, Dijon.

Is that one of the Giacometti that were used in 1990? I don't think it is. A little research shows that it is Woman of Venice V, which is owned by the Pompidou Centre in Paris.

Let me be facetious for a moment.

'On. Say On. Be said On. Somehow On. Till nohow On. Said nohow On.'

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Copyright, Le Consortium, Dijon.

A few days after leaving Dijon, On Kawara made a Date Painting in Frankfurt.

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

Presumably he was back in Frankfurt to communicate with Kasper König. On had last been in Frankfurt in April 1989, so there would have been a lot to catch up about. The second, third and fourth legs of 'Again and Against'. 'Time Span' in Barcelona. Giacometti in Dijon. On's studio in Rome. But more than that. The Berlin Wall had come down in November, shortly before Samuel Beckett died.

On's children were 11 and 12. Kasper's girls were 21 and 19, but his boys were much younger, Johann was only nine. As for Kasper himself, he was drawing a salary as Professor of Art at Frankfurt School of Art, and with that in mind he wanted to put on a show of On Kawara Date Paintings. This time the Dates would not be bounced off any other work. They would be on their own. One Date Painting for each of the last 24 - no, click, 25 - years.

The same years as had been on tour with 'Again and Against'? No, a completely new set of dates. There was no need to show Dates that had already been seen by the people of Frankfurt in 'Again and Against'. Indeed, that would have been absurd.

In fact, as you can see two of the Dates
were from the show that had gone round the world.

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Anything special about 31AOUT.1970 and 15OKT.1974?

31AOUT.1970 had been painted in Quebec when On and Hiroko had been on an early road-trip. It was a day in which he painted two Dates, so perhaps this one had not been part of 'Again and Against'.

15OKT.1974 had been painted in Bern, a few days after the closing of 'One Year's Production'.

Actually, I imagine On Kawara began his selection of Date Paintings for an exhibition from scratch. He would devise the organising principle (over and above one Date from each year) and he would use his
One-Hundred-Year Calendar and his Journals to help him make the choices.

He would have taken it seriously. He would have had fun.



DECEMBER

I think On Kawara returned to New York for December, as the three Dates he painted on consecutive days in early December are in the American style. However, the paintings didn't remain in New York. In 2005 they were photographed by Candida Höfer in Yamaguchi, Japan. In the Shimada Collection.

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

It looks civilised and homely. It symbolises how On and Hiroko made their lifestyle choices work. They lived between New York and Japan and didn't they just love it. The best of both worlds: traditional Japan and international America.

Actually, they lived between three worlds. New York, Japan and a Europe populated by Kasper K
önig, Samuel Beckett, Alberto Giacometti and the proud people of Catalonia.

Stand in the middle of that plush carpet, On Kawara. Look towards the three Date Paintings and take a bow, maestro. Oh, and listen:

"On-n-n-n-n… Say On-n-n-n-n… Be said On-n-n-n-n…"

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