PENULTIMATE




INTRO

I had planned to make this the last chapter, whose two parts were Karlyn de Jongh's Unanswered Questions for On Kawara, taking us from 2007 to the beginning of 2011. Then moving to the SILENCE exhibition at the Guggenheim, planning for which was begun in October 2011. But in the researching of the essay, I've realised the importance of Date Painting in New York and 136 Cities, which I've been using rather narrowly up to now. The making of that exhibition and book must have deeply involved On Kawara in 2011, so I must dig into that.

Still a two-part essay, then. But a different second part. Maybe I'm trying to put off the inevitable end of this project.



ONE

As I've just said, Karlyn de Jongh's
Unanswered Questions for On Kawara began in 2007. Knowing that On Kawara would not make a statement of his own about his work, she came at such a 'statement' through questions that people that had known On would like to ask him. Collecting the questions was a slow process. Let's summarise On's Date Painting while she gets to work…

2009. Monthly total of Date paintings: 1, 3, 1, 3, 7, 2, 5, 3, 3, 2, 2, 3. Yearly total 35. No two consecutive days painted. Four of the Dates reproduced in the literature. Meanwhile, for Karlyn de Jongh, the questions for On Kawara were coming in, of which this is an example:


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By May, 2009, Karlyn de Jongh felt she had enough questions from art world people, and made an attempt to meet On Kawara in New York. She rang the doorbell at 140 Greene Street, but got no answer. A second time she rang the bell and spoke to a woman she presumed was Hiroko, who told her that On was out. On a third occasion she watched as an elderly Japanese couple made their way into a car, their luggage being carried by a younger person. This was on May 7, 2009. Were On and Hiroko on their way to Paris or Tokyo? I don't think they were, according to the Date Painting record. But I may come back to that in the second part of this essay.

In October, Karlyn de Jongh published a book of 79 unanswered questions to On Kawara. She tried to present the artist with copy of this in New York, but again didn't manage to meet him. She was in London, at the Lisson Gallery, when a chance meeting with Nicholas Logsdail took place. He told her: “He is a wonderful artist. If you want to meet On Kawara, do it soon. He smokes several packs of cigarettes a day and is not in good health."

On Kawara had long been a heavy smoker. This photo of him from his early career in Japan shows him smoking in his studio. It does not look as if he was enjoying being photographed, even then:

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Given the terminal lung cancer this sadly led to in 2014, let's follow through with the smoking business. This photo shows On Kawara's studio in 1966.

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

The ashtray is to the right of where On sat to paint. Close by is a packet of Lucky Strike cigarettes. I wonder how long it took some ad agency to choose that name over something like Lung Shafters.

Another photos of the studio in 1966 shows an ashtray loaded with cigarette stubs. At this time the fag industry was still trying to say there was no association between smoking and lung disease.

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

Smoking Lucky Strikes while making a Date Painting whose subtitle commemorated the Gemini space mission. That's quite a strong pattern. As Oscar Wilde said: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."

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No need to over-complicate things, René. What you're really trying to ask is 'Is consciousness blinking, between painting and smoking?'

Let's move on. Below is On Kawara's studio on Greene Street in 1979. As you can see, On's smoking gear is again to his right: ashtray, lighter and cig packet.


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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders.

It would seem that On has changed his brand. Certainly, the packet of cigarettes in the above image is called 'Parliament'. Do these smokes give an air of distinction to the smoker? "After I've finished this little puff, I'm off to the House to vote on the Sale of Goods Act."

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What a thing of beauty is a flip-top box of cigs. On must have considered, on a near daily basis, making his Date Painting boxes flip-top.

And see how the rolled tubes of tobacco are tightly packed together? 7 + 6 + 7 = 20 golden moments, 20 glorious smokes, 20 spectacular lights.

Did On have his first Parliament after putting on the preliminary coat of raw Sienna? Another fag after the second coat. What a perfect start to another day. And later, in the afternoon, applying white paint in coat after coat in order to build up the letters and numbers. The effect that On was going for was the perfectly smooth white of a cigarette paper when wrapped tightly around a tube of tobacco. Bliss.

Jumping forward another decade, to On's temporary studio in Rome in 1990:

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders.

At first glance, a smoke-free zone. None of the sequence of photos taken on 27 October show any sign of the Date Painter having been smoking. However, the following photo taken the next day, and from another angle, shows the truth of the matter.

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

The ashtray was still to On's right as he Date Painted. And there is a packet of Marlboro cigarettes on the corner of the table nearest the camera. Was On Kawara a Marlboro Man, then? I guess he was. Just as he'd been a Lucky Striker and an MP.

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A year later. It is 12.12 P.M.. The Date Painting is nearing the end of its first coat of white lettering and numbering and there is no sign of a ciggy.

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, and One Million Years Foundation.

But by 2.25P.M., see below, On Kawara has smoked two cigarettes. He may have smoked more, of course. So let's take 2.25 as our starting point for the cigarette count.

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, and One Million Years Foundation.

By 3.35pm, see below, he has smoked three cigarettes. That's only one in an hour. Of course, he may have had to wait for a new packet to arrive.

Hiroko: "Sorry, On, they didn't have any filter-tipped left."

On (removing the sellophane with dextrous fingers and operating the flip-top box). "That's OK, Hiro, don't stress."

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, and One Million Years Foundation.

And by 4.15pm, see below, there are still only three cigarette stubs in the ashtray. There are still 19 perfect cigarettes tightly packed into the white cube of a box. He is so into the Date Painting that he has stopped smoking. He may never smoke again. On is in the moment and is going to live forever!

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, and One Million Years Foundation.

Sure, by 5pm, see below, he has smoked another. But that is only two cigarettes in two-and-a-half hours.

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, and One Million Years Foundation.

By 6.52P.M. there is no sign of the ashtray. Does that mean he has stopped smoking for the day? Or does it mean that his smoking operation has moved to another part of the room?

The above photo sequence is taken from the exquisite little book
JUNE 9,1991, which even shows two perfect fags on the cover.

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Another two sequences are shown in the volume,
Whole and Parts. The 36 photos of the Date Painting operation on 6 AUG, 1992 in Tokyo, show no signs of any simultaneous smoking operation. However, the same number of photos of the painting process in Paris on 20FEV.1993 are let down by image number 33, which shows part of an ashtray with three stubs in it.

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, and One Million Years Foundation.

On Kawara was smoking in Japan, pre-Date Painting. He was smoking in 1966; smoking in 1979; smoking in 1990, 1991 and1993; and, according to Nicholas Logsdail's and Jonathan Watkins' independent testimony, smoking heavily from 1997 onwards. It's quite possible that On Kawara smoked all his adult life.

Addiction is a potent force, and at this point I should say something about my own. Since the age of seventeen I've had the pleasure of drinking three pints of beer, or the best part of a bottle of wine, most days of my life. Since making my first Date Painting on May 7, 2021, my average alcohol consumption has gone up slightly. I put this down, in part, to the stimulation of the Date Painting process. On Kawara described his process as meditative, and I'm sure it was in his case. But I am always so pleased by the emerging good-enough-to-be-photographed picture, that by the evening I'm imagining the Date Painting in various places and juxtapositions, and my mind is racing. When I am in a celebratory mood, I like to have a drink. Hence my recognition that Date Painting days are by no means non-drinking days.

As well as that, Date Paintings tend to be attempted in a day following a period of essay writing. Usually, but not always, I wait until the end of a chapter before having a Date Painting day. In previous writing projects, this would have been a rest day, and I may have had a day, or even two days, without any alcohol.

Realising this a couple of days ago, I abandoned my plan to make a painting on MAY8, 2022. Instead I enjoyed an alcohol-free day, my first for several weeks. Today, May 9,2022, though a writing day, is also intended to be alcohol-free. That is, if I can refrain from getting over-stimulated by today's so-far-successful writing process, which - the over-stimulation - is something I can already feel buzzing away at the back of my consciousness.

This is what I must avoid. Feeling very much 'still alive'. Feeling like celebrating this satisfying fact by sitting back with a glass of wine and dwelling on it. I would liken it to resting on one's laurels. That feeling of complacency that follows the realisation of success in life. Where the laurel wreath is taken from the brow, the aromatic leaves shredded, placed in a cigarette paper, rolled into the perfect tube, and smoked. The delicious smoking experience complemented by a steady flow of fine wine. Thus simultaneously engaging the taste buds, the throat, the stomach, the lungs, the racing blood and the brain.

Where was I? Moving into 2010. Here is On's Date Painting pattern:

2010: Monthly Dates: 2, 3, 4, 4, 4, 1, 3, 2, 2, 2, 2, 4. Making a total 33. No consecutive days. I've seen four of the year's Dates in reproduction. One of them, made in March, was given a subtitle (other than the day of the week), only the second since the end of 1972.

Title:
MAR.13, 2010: Sub-title: “after the whole is taken from the whole, behold, the remainder is whole.” Iashavasya Upanishad.

I have also seen repros of
FEB.8, 2010, AUG. 11, 2010 and DEC.3, 2010.

In autumn of 2010, Karlyn de Jongh heard that Daniel Marzona, who worked at Konrad Fischer Gallery, and who she'd received a question from about On in 2009, was going to meet On Kawara in New York. She asked if she could tag along. Daniel explained that it was not a definite appointment and so there was no guarantee that it would happen, but in principle, yes.

It didn't happen. Instead Karlyn found herself speaking again to Nicholas Logsdail, this time on the phone. He told her that On’s physical state was critical and that he no longer wanted to see anybody. According to Nicholas, Jonathan Watkins was one of the very few people in touch with the artist - and even that relationship was uncertain.

At the beginning of 2011, in a last throw of the dice, Karlyn de Jongh posted the questions she had gathered to the artist. In other words she sent 79 postcards to On Kawara, plus a few more in case some got lost in the post. These were returned, stamped 'RETURN TO SENDER'.


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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Karlyn de Jongh.

I would have taken this to be good sign. The artist, famous for stamping cards of his own, creates a stamp which he uses on another artist's work. Not quite a seal of approval, but at least, on an aesthetic level, it's an engagement.

Karlyn de Jongh is bit vague about the timeline here. It seems she sent all the cards on January 5, 2011. She adds only that she got them back 'months' later.

Meanwhile, on March 22, 2011, Karlyn phoned Jonathan Watkins and explained how deeply she still wanted to meet On Kawara. On 22 March 2011, Jonathan wrote an email to her which is reproduced in Karlyn's
written summary of her project. Jonathan said he would be in touch with On and get back to her as soon as possible. 'He will say "no" most probably, and of course that will signify he is still alive.' It strikes me that this was a thoughtful email, echoing On Kawara's response to the postcards. Two days later, Jonathan wrote again. 'Dear Karlyn, It's a "no" I'm afraid.'



TWO

By 2011, I think On Kawara realised that his travelling days were over. That might explain why the organising of the exhibition
Date Painting in New York and 136 Other Cities was put into motion. There was going to be no 137th City.

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The show took place at David Zwirner's gallery in New York, between January 6 and February 11, 2012. The curators of the show (and the editors of the accompanying book) were Tommy Simoens and Angela Choon, the latter of whom worked for David Zwirner and who accompanied the Kawara family to Dallas for the 2008 show, '10 Tableaux and 16,952 Pages'.

As you can see from the next image, the book begins with small, back-view of On Kawara. What is he doing? It looks as if he is looking over to Manhattan from another of the islands of New York. Or vice versa. Perhaps the latter, standing on Manhattan, contemplating the wider world that he could no longer explore.

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Is On smoking or not? Let's take a closer look.

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.

It is certainly possible to imagine a packet of Marlboros in his left hand, and a cigarette held between the fingers of his right hand. Or perhaps On had given up smoking by this stage, in an effort to live a few more days. For a start, he wanted to finish this 2011/2012 project. In 2002, for Ikon, he had conceived a show of Date Paintings, all Sundays, one per year from 1966 to 2002. In 2008, for Dallas, the focus had switched to his largest paintings, all of them. Whereas this time, for New York, the organising principle was where he was when he painted each and every one of the Dates. Was he home or away? In New York or elsewhere?

As you can see from the next image, the book has a symmetrical structure. It begins with a reproduction of a One Hundred Years Calendar, the 100 years of the 20th Century. It ends with another One Hundred Years Calendar, the 21st Century. The latter is made up to December the 17th, 2011. Now there is one later One Hundred Years Calendar that I'm aware of, and that was made up until a month or so later, until February 11, 2012. Perhaps the calendar made up to December 17, 2011 was intended for the show, opening less than a month later, and the February one was meant to be reproduced in the book, given that February 11 was the closing date of the show. But whether or not that was the original plan, it was the December 2011 one that was reproduced, leaving the February 11, 2012 calendar to be reproduced in both
SILENCE and the Glenstone catalogue. Sorry, that was bit anal. I am trying hard not to give unnecessary detail, but I've a feeling that some readers are going to find this chapter hard going.

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, David Zwirner and One Million Years Foundation.

Of more significance is the other pencilled grouping in the above Contents' page, that is between 'Date Painting(s) in New York' and 'Date Painting(s) in 136 Other Cities'. Now basically this is where a batch of Date illustrations, one per year, covering 100 pages, go into the 'New York' section. And another batch of Dates, this time with their accompanying boxes each lined with newspaper cutting, covering 126 pages, goes into the '136 Other Cities' section. However, each of these sections is prefaced by what I took to be a design element in the book. It's simply a list of dates. There is a five-page section at the front of the 'New York' section, beginning thus:

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, David Zwirner and One Million Years Foundation.

The equivalent preface to the 'Other Cities' section is shorter, just this one page:

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, David Zwirner and One Million Years Foundation.

I didn't look at this properly before. It has a way of deflecting the eye. I now realise that these two documents, taken together, give a reliable record of where On Kawara was in the world as he Date Painted. This information can be got from his yearly Journals for 1966 until 1979, as they are reproduced in the 1980 book, On Kawara continuity/discontuity. But thereafter the journals weren't published. However, 'I READ' was continued until the end of 1995, and this provided the information as to where Dates were painted until then. After that, these two documents provides the only summary of geographical information for the years of On Kawara's career after 1995.

So it's this info I was using when I detailed On Kawara's movements in the 1997-2007 chapter. Now I need to make use of it to take us through from 2008 to 2012.

OK, here goes. The black numbers/letters relate to New York, the red ones are away from New York, with me having added the red colour. The exact format of each date, and spelling of the month abbreviation, giving clues as to which country the artist was visiting.


2007
JAN. 1, 2007 JAN.2, 2007 JAN.18, 2007 22 ENE. 2007 23 ENE. 2007 (San Jose, Costa Rica ) FEB.8, 2007 FEB. 17, 2007 MAR.8, 2007 MAR.12, 2007 APR.2, 2007 APR.23, 2007 APR.29, 2007 MAY 1,2007 31MAI 2007 7JUIN,2007 17 JUIN,2007 21JUNI,2007 22JUNI,2007 (Antwerp, Belgium) 5JUIL,2007 JULY15,2007 (Manchester, UK) JULY17,2007 (Glasgow, UK) JULY19,2007 (Edinburgh, UK) 2 AOUT 2007 9 AGO.2007 10 AGO.2007 (Andorra, Spain) AUG. 27, 2007 SEPT.11,2007 SEPT.22,2007 SEPT.23,2007 (Salt Lake City, USA) OCT.12, 2007 OCT.23,2007 OCT.24,2007 (Hartford, USA) NOV.9,2007 NOV.11,2007 NOV.14,2007 NOV.21,2007 DEC.7,2007 DEC.10,2007 DEC.19,2007 DEC.25,2007 DEC.25,2007

2007 began in New York and continued with a trip to Costa Rica. Then back to New York before flying to Paris in May. A European Summer, including a tour of the UK, before returning to New York at the end of August. A couple of trips to cities at either end of the United States before the end of the year.

But consider these dates: 31MAI 2007 7JUIN,2007 17 JUIN,2007 5JUIL,2007 2 AOUT 2007 Could one of these days be the last Date that On painted in his Paris flat? I've checked ahead and reckon it is. So by the time On was leaning on that railing he was in exile from his beloved Paris. That would have taken bait of getting used to

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Reproduced and annotated with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, and One Million Years Foundation.


Back to the main listing of Dates! Back to New York and maybe the odd trip to Japan…

2008
JAN.9,2008 JAN.14,2008 19 FEB. 2008 21 FEB. 2008 27 FEB. 2008 MAR.28,2008 MAR.31,2008 APR.12,2008 MAY29,2008 MAY31,2008 JUNE 2,2008 JUNE 17,2008 JUNE 21,2008 JULY 2,2008 JULY 4, 2008 JULY 29,2008 AUG.2,2008 AUG.9, 2008 AUG.16, 2008 SEPT.9,2008 SEPT.21, 2008 OCT.21, 2008 OCT.25,2008 NOV.4, 2008 NOV.7, 2008 NOV.14, 2008 DEC.5,2008

He didn't visit France this year. Those February dates are probably somewhere in Japan, being FEB not FEV.

2009
JAN. 15, 2009 FEB. 2, 2009 FEB. 11, 2009 FEB. 18, 2009 19 MAR. 2009 APR.16, 2009 APR.17, 2009 APR.27, 2009 MAY 2, 2009 MAY 5, 2009 MAY 8, 2009 MAY 11, 2009 MAY 18, 2009 MAY 21, 2009 MAY 28,2009 JUNE 9, 2009 JUNE 25, 2009 JULY 6, 2009 JULY 14, 2009 JULY 14, 2009 AUG. 8, 2009 AUG. 14, 2009 AUG. 21, 2009 SEPT.1,2009 SEPT.9, 2009 SEPT.22, 2009 OCT.7, 2009 OCT.14, 2009 NOV.9, 2007 NOV.13, 2009 NOV.16,2009 NOV.26,2009 DEC.2, 2009 DEC.7, 2009 DEC.18, 2009

One day stands out. The only Date Painting not made in New York in 2009. The last Date Painting ever to be painted outside New York. Where though? Possibly at the home in Japan.
The abbreviation for March in French is 'MARS', so it's definitely not Paris. Let's celebrate the Date's existence, its biographical importance, though I've not seen it reproduced anywhere.

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Reproduced and annotated with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, and One Million Years Foundation.

What is On Kawara gazing at, internally? Mount Fuji? For the final time? Saying goodbye to Paris with a Date Painting in 2007. Saying goodbye to Japan with a Date Painting in 2009.


2010
JAN. 27, 2010 FEB. 3, 2010 FEB. 8, 2010 FEB. 11, 2010 MAR.3, 2010 MAR.9, 2010 MAR.13, 2010 MAR.26, 2010 APR.1, 2010 APR.3, 2010 APR.27, 2010 APR.30, 2010 MAY 3, 2010 MAY 11, 2010 MAY 17, 2010 MAY 25, 2010 JUNE 6, 2010 JULY 18, 2010 JULY 24, 2010 JULY 25, 2010 AUG. 8, 2010 AUG. 11, 2010 AUG. 14, 2010 SEPT.4, 2010 SEPT.7, 2010 OCT.4, 2010 OCT.7, 2010 NOV.8, 2010 NOV.23, 2010 DEC.3, 2010 DEC.12, 2010 DEC.15, 2010 DEC.19, 2010

Confined to New York all 2010. With the energy and pain-free time to paint consecutive days just once: JULY 24 and JULY 25.

2011
JAN. 7, 2011 JAN. 11, 2011 JAN. 14, 2011 FEB. 3, 2011 FEB. 14, 2011 FEB. 17, 2011 FEB. 22, 2011 MAR.12, 2011 MAR.25, 2011 APR.4, 2011 APR.7, 2011 APR.20, 2011 APR.29, 2011 MAY 3, 2011 MAY 6, 2011 MAY 8, 2011 MAY 19, 2011 JUNE 6, 2011 JUNE 13, 2011 JULY 1, 2011 JULY 8, 2011 JULY 12, 2011 JULY 26, 2011 AUG. 6, 2011 AUG. 13, 2011 AUG. 20, 2011 AUG. 29, 2011 SEPT.4, 2011 SEPT.7, 2011 OCT.12, 2011 OCT.16, 2011 NOV.24, 2011,

Confined to New York all 2011. Still a Date Painter. But consecutive days are too much for him. One day at a time is the new rule, surrounded by down time.

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Reproduced and annotated with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, and One Million Years Foundation.

What's that on On's back? Oh, yes, of course. On's monthly Date Painting in 2011 was as follows: 3, 4, 2, 3, 4, 2, 4, 4, 2, 2, 1, 2. A total of 33 Dates. Of which 4 have been reproduced in the literature, all seemingly made in New York. The document that I've been using to summarise the Date Painting in New York of those earlier years only goes up to November 2011. So the two December Dates are not on it. That is consistent with the One Hundred Years Calendar that is reproduced at the back of Date Painting in New York and 136 Other Cities.


So back to this book that On must have been working on intermittently during 2011. As you can see, there are four items on the Contents' page between the two sections that include reproductions (and lists) of Date Paintings:

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, David Zwirner and One Million Years Foundation.

I want to say something about each of these four items, as clearly they were chosen by On Kawara. Or if not chosen by On, approved by him. Just as the photo of himself at the beginning of the book must have been approved by him.

The essay by Lucas Zwirner, 'Seeing to Speaking', is a philosophical piece about language. It begins with a parable about a man who travels to visit the temple and statue of Truth. To begin with he can't understand anything Truth says. After years of study, learning Truth's language and abandoning the language he was brought up with, he finally
can understand Truth. But when the man returns to his people and opens his mouth to speak, it sounds to them like he is singing an incomprehensible song. Lucas suggests that: 'Truth is a private affair that we are constantly trying to make public… How do we transport the certainty we discover in our private thinking into a medium where it can be assessed by others without losing the power and veracity it had when we discovered it?'

Also ambitious is the essay: 'On Kawara's Gravitational Body, or the Confinement of Space-Time and the Liberation of Consciousness'. It was written by Lei Yamabe (which in Japanese means 'cold mountaintop', whereas On Kawara apparently means 'warm waterside') in 2009, and then translated specially for the 2012 book. The essay deals with the fact that there are no photos of On Kawara and no statements by him. Of course, there is the occasional oblique photo of On Kawara. And he did make the odd statement, such as 'The paintings were made on the dates that are painted on them'. And the sub-title for
DEC.21,1966 reveals: 'This afternoon Henry Geldzahler asked me in his apartment what I do every day. I said "I don't know what I do but I know that I collect dates; that is painted canvases on which the dates are written by me."'

"Why have you done this? What does it mean?" Those are the questions that On Kawara would not answer. The work had to 'speak' for itself. Though he had no objection to others singing its praises, providing they were suitably qualified in terms of insight.

The third piece (placed first in the book) is
Code, "Voice from the Moon". Which wasn't in the exhibition but is part of the accompanying volume. This piece is dated 2011, even though it's a transcription of the voices of the Apollo 11 astronauts and NASA, Houston, from July, 1969. Here is the first page of nine:

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of One Million Years Foundation.

And here is my translation, which was arrived at in GAME ON (3):

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Reproduced and annotated with the forbearance, I hope, of One Million Years Foundation.


Which leads me to the fourth of the David Zwirner volume's 'essays'. It's a chapter taken from a book which was published in 2008 called
The Way of the Explorer, written by Edgar Mitchell. Now this author had been an astronaut, and when coming back from the Moon on which he'd walked in 1971, as part of the Apollo 14 mission, he went through an epiphany. As he puts it: 'The private experience of expansiveness that I had felt during our return from the moon… had to be something more than could be explained by mere elevated emotion.'

Edgar Mitchell, ex-astronaut, did a lot of psychic and mystical research, and came across the book
Cosmic Consciousness by R.M. Bucke, which he found inspirational. The phrase 'Cosmic Consciousness' was important to On Kawara as well, featuring in the subtitle of the 2006 Date Painting that was acquired by the Dallas Museum of Art and which featured in the 2008 show, 10 Tableaux and 16,952 Pages. The subtitle of 5 FEB. 2006 being 'To view the earth with cosmic consciousness', which was written in Esperanto, as On was painting in Japan that day.

Back to
The Way of the Explorer, or at least the chapter reproduced in Date Painting in New York and 136 Other Cities. 'The idea of an epiphany can be viewed as an abrupt organisation, or reorganisation, of information in a way that produces new insight at the level of conscious awareness.' And that's what occurred to Edgar Mitchell on his return flight from the moon. The healing of a duality, as he puts it. He achieved nothing less than 'a sense of inner peace and well-being, but also an unshakeable feeling of immortality, accompanied by joy.' Yes, well, an unshakeable feeling of immortality would put the 'j' into joy.

'The ecstasy I experienced was somehow a natural response of my body to the overwhelming sense of unity I received. I saw how my very existence was irrevocably connected with the movement and formation of planets, stars, galaxies - the ineluctable result of the explosion of an immensely hot and dense dot at the centre of the universe billions of years ago.'

There is no question that On Kawara could relate to this. He could see that being an astronaut would be likely to bring on cosmic consciousness, something that he was able to attain without leaving his studio. As early as 1966, the largest Date Painting On Kawara made in the calendar year was this one:

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Reproduced and annotated with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, David Zwirmer and One Million Years Foundation.


The subtitle of the size 'F' date was 'GEMINI 10'. And three days later a size 'E' date was painted, with the sub-title: "The Gemini capsule in which John Young and Mike Collins had soared to 474 miles during 70 hours splashed down into the Atlantic Ocean at 5.07P.M. today before the eyes of millions of T.V. viewers in the U.S.A."

Subsequent Gemini missions were mentioned in Date Painting subtitles, as were the Apollo missions, culminating in the three giant paintings made over five days of July, 1969, commemorating the first moon walk made by Apollo 11 astronauts. We know all about those.

Apollo 12, which landed on the moon in November of 1969 was mentioned in five subtitles. Indeed on NOV.19, 1969 On Kawara (I've just noticed) made three Date Paintings, one of size 'B' and two of size 'C'. The titles and subtitles read:

NOV.19, 1969
"The two moon-landing astronauts of Apollo 12, Comdr.Charles Conrad Jr. and Comdr. Alan L. Bean of the Navy took two long walks outside their spacecraft, the Intrepid, which was standing near the rocky rim of a crater on the Ocean of Storms."

NOV.19, 1969
"CONRAD (6.45 A.M.) — '…I'm going to step off the pad. Right. Up. Oh, is that soft. Hey, that's neat. I don't sink in too far. I'll try a little—boy, that sun's bright. That's just like somebody shining a spotlight in your hands. I can walk pretty well, Al, but I've got to take it easy and watch what I'm doing. Boy, you'll never believe it! Guess what I see sitting on the side of the crater. The old Surveyor!'"

NOV.19, 1969
"In SNAP 27 the heat produced by a radioactive isotope will make electricity. This will be carried through wires to power the array of scientific instruments that will be left on the lunar surface."

In other words, another special effort was made by the artist. On Kawara had never before made three Date Paintings in the one day. So a significant lunar triptych of Date Paintings exists over and above the three giant paintings to be found at Glenstone.

The near-disaster of Apollo 13 was marked by two Date Paintings, April 15 and April 17, 1970. But Apollo 14, through which Edgar Mitchell became the sixth man to walk on the moon, was not commemorated with a Date Painting at all. On February 5, 1971, when the Apollo 14 moon walk took place, On Kawara may have been travelling from Honolulu to New York. He had made a Date Painting there on January 29, and the first Date Painting made back in New York was not made until February 16. On was not able to Date Paint when flying in a plane. Nor when he had jet lag. Even cosmic consciousness has its limits. If On Kawara did Edgar Mitchell a disservice in 1971, he was making up for that in 2011 by including the man's post-Moon writing in his own book.

Simple consciousness, that's what animals have. Self-consciousness, that's what human beings have. Cosmic consciousness, that's what a few people attain in their lifetime. On Kawara had cosmic consciousness. When he painted a Date Painting, he was aware that he was inextricably linked to a universe that went on forever in all directions. He didn't want to let go of that visionary (yet non-visual) feeling. And he wanted to get back to it as often as he could.

Never mind love or death, those obsessions of the self-conscious. Having cosmic consciousness was what mattered. Besides, there is no death, only life. How many days do you have to sit there Date Painting before that hard-won insight becomes second nature?

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Reproduced and annotated with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, and One Million Years Foundation.


I still can't throw off the impression that On is leaning on that rail, smoking. We know that smoking has a bad press, but the taking of air deep down into the lungs, that must be one of the easiest ways of connecting with the universe. In goes the breath, rich with oxygen and tobacco, out goes the breath, full of carbon dioxide. In… out… An integral part of the universe… Lovely. Is there a brand of cigarettes called Cosmic Consciousness?

On often said that 'two' is the key number in Japanese philosophy, not one. I guess the counterbalance to cosmic consciousness is self-consciousness. Which means, to retain a perfect balance, to achieve a harmonious whole, I have to end the essay this way:

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Reproduced and annotated with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, and One Million Years Foundation.


Oh, those 'J' words: JULY, JOY, JUST.




TWO (2)

Having made use of the image of On Kawara several times now, I need to say more about it, in part to justify using it so repeatedly.

The essay in the
Date Painting in New York and 136 Other Cities book by Lei Yamabe, which I referred to briefly above, focuses on the physical body, fragile and transient, in the work of On Kawara. Specifically, it talks about the mutilated bodies that appear in On Kawara's 'Bathroom' paintings from the 1950s, made before he left Japan, and supposes that it is space - its inherent plasticity as understood by Einstein's theory of general relativity - that has cut and mutilated the bodies. He contrasts this with post-1966 work where the danger to the body, this time exclusively On Kawara's body, is from TIME.

Lei Yamabe writes in a fascinating way about quantum mechanics, in which On Kawara was indeed interested, and understands the Date Paintings to be evidence of On Kawara's bodily existence. On Kawara had to be alive to paint a picture on a certain date. After that it cannot be said whether On Kawara is alive or dead. Then along comes another Date Painting so Lei can relax: the painter still lives! Lei Yamabe makes the analogy with an electron, behaving like a wave function, which cannot be directly observed, and needs a bubble chamber to show its route. Date Paintings are understood to be "bubbles" of the artist's bodily activity. Does that make sense? Up to a point. But analogies are rarely perfect parallels.

Is it an understanding of quantum mechanics that decided On Kawara would not let himself be photographed? Well, he has let himself be photographed. There is actual evidence of the living body of On Kawara at the beginning of the catalogue that I've made such extensive use of in this essay. There is also a shot of On Kawara - from the back - in the 2002 catalogue that Phaidon published, and another in the
SILENCE catalogue that was published in 2015.

I suspect these rear views were included because they do give evidence of On Kawara being alive, while withholding the face in which so much of an individual's mood and personality, race and age, can be read. On did not want his audience to be distracted by the vagaries of these. In all his work, it is his 'being aliveness' - his consciousness pure and simple - that is emphasised, with no detail on what he thinks or feels about anything. True, one can read something into his character by the items that he reads in the newspapers, by the choice of people he meets, and by the choice of places he visits. And that may be one reason why he abandoned several of those sub-projects in 1979. He was giving too much away. The Date Paintings are the most sublime distillation of his art.

It should be remembered that from 1971 and the show of emerging international artists at the Guggenheim, On avoided the openings of his own work. I imagine he avoided all openings from then on, because at those events it is impossible to get away from career-orientated chit-chat. It is hard to avoid self-expression and self-advertisement, not to mention photographers. On Kawara didn't want to be tempted into such discourse. He didn't want to be distracted from dwelling on the fact of his continued existence.

Which is why, in this account, although I do speculate conservatively about On Kawara's personality, and I do discreetly investigate aspects of his biography, I do focus on, and make myself keep coming back to, his awe-inspiring work. I mean the astonishing fact that he - that any of us - was alive for such and such a time.

Did I say that the Date Paintings were the most sublime distillation of On Kawara's art? They are indeed. And then On goes and spoils it all by giving clues as to where he was on the planet, whether New York, Paris or Tokyo, for instance. Space as well as time! Less is more, Onny-boy. Did no-one ever tell you that?

Only joking, of course. On Kawara knew that less is more. He knew that less is more and least is most. And the least you can expect is to be gently reminded, in a concise line of letters, numbers and symbols, that both space and time are cultural constructs.



TWO (3)

I thought I would leave it there, but find that I can't.

You see I realised it should be possible to work out exactly where on the planet On was when the photo of his back view was taken. And so it proved. It took me about thirty seconds to establish the location. Only that wasn't quite right, I realised after a while, because there was one building in the Google view that wasn't in the black and white photo. And so I looked again, and realised that On was standing a few hundred yards further north than I'd first thought. Here, in fact:


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The Google camera took this photo in July 2014, which is to say in the month following On's death.

The photo was taken from just north of the Hudson River Greenway. In other words, in the b/w photo from 2011, there is a sports stadium just out of shot to the artist's left. On Kawara was standing on Manhattan Island, not too far from his home on Greene Street looking over the Hudson River towards New Jersey. The skyscrapers to the left of On's cap are of Newport, while the bridge to the right of his cap is part of Hoboken Path Rail Station. On the map below, the red dots indicate On's house on Greene Street (near the right edge of the image) and where On stood and looked across his river.

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But I need to get back to the Street View. I can't get enough of it. The high-rise towers, the glistening river, the glowing sky.

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On Kawara is still very much alive in my mind.

Which is another way of saying this:

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The next essay will be the last chapter. At least as far as this chronological account is concerned. The story that began in 1966.