1970 (1)

Before I start laying out On Kawara's interconnected achievements of 1970, let me mention the two books whose images and design I'll be making use of for the first half of the year.

On the left, the Glenstone catalogue, 2018, which reproduces everything it owns by On Kawara that is to be found in its museum in Potomac, Maryland. Secondly, the
On Kawara - SILENCE catalogue produced for the show at the Guggenheim, New York, in 2015. Both are available to buy from these institutions and elsewhere, and what follows will, I hope, stimulate interest in these splendid volumes.


Being the fifth of the five years that On Kawara had set aside for the first phase of Date Painting, in which no work would be sold, the artist had resolved to produce a Date Painting every day for as long as he could. He was going to stick to size B paintings, giving each a dark grey background. He got off to a steady start.

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

The subtitles were taken from his reading of the New York press, as they would be throughout this phase of the project, which was to last until March 31. The subtitle for JAN.1 concerns a Cuban gunboat firing warning shots at a Liberian cargo ship, while JAN. 2 reports the death of the second heart-and-double-lung transplant patient at the age of 43. The prevalence of war and the progress of science, respectively.

JAN. 3 through JAN. 9. Below is how they are presented in a double-page spread in the
SILENCE catalogue.

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

The subtitles concern, from left to right, a tropical hornbill netted in New York; an 89-year-old Peruvian soldier marrying a 37-year-old woman; information that if the moon came from the earth then it did so during the earth's formation or immediately afterwards; simply the day, 'Tuesday'; the observation that a candy-stripe pattern is to be found in some lunar rocks; and the US and China agreeing to resume formal ambassadorial meetings. Not as dominated by war as some periods. Quite upbeat really.

One has to bear in mind that I GOT UP, I WENT and I MET would have been produced each day as well. But On Kawara was well into the rhythm of this workload, having been doing it for nearly two years. None of these daily records for this time are reproduced in the general volumes on On Kawara that I have access to. Which is probably just as well, as this project would otherwise become bogged down in raw data. Speaking of which, I'm intending to reproduce each of the DPs made from January 1 until March 31, just to emphasise what kind of commitment was involved here. As a mark of respect, you might say.

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

JAN 9: France sells 50 Mirage jet fighters to Libya.

JAN 9: Diamond sales hit a record $691 million in 1969.

One cannot forget the pervasive importance of money. Its presence drives so much human activity.

The subtitle of Jan 10 catches the eye. It is in verse and, although On Kawara does not flag this up, a little Google research reveals that the first verse was written by Thai guerrillas to the Thai police, and the second and third verses constitute the reply from the police to the guerrillas. Perhaps On Kawara was thinking of it in a Viet Nam context:

'When you come, we dive underground.
When you stop, we harass.
When you are in bad shape, we attack.
When you run, we chase.'

The reply:

'When you dive, we dig you up and expose you.
When you are in bad shape, we pounce on and
pulverize you.

When you attack, we fight back.
When you chase, we turn and bore into you.
Because you are debased and fickle, and you
lure the people with your wiles."

Jan11, is a report on the Super Bowl game between Kansas Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings.

Then come two subtitles concerning West and East Africa.

JAN. 12: "Biafra with its last defences crumbling and its supplies of food and ammunition exhausted, capitulated today to the Nigerian government."

JAN.13: "Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia today ordered the transfer of $20,000 to the Nigerian Government to help victims of the civil war and appealed to the world community to rush food and medical supplies to starving civilians."

The real cost of war is death.

This might be an appropriate time to see how On Kawara's technique is holding up to his demanding schedule. When the two paintings are placed over one another, and the opening 'J' is lined up as well as possible…


It can be seen that the 'J's do line up. They are the exact same size and similarly placed in the composition. As the eye moves to the right along the letters and numbers, some small differences can be observed. For instance, the 'A' of JAN. 12 is wider than the A of JAN.13, pushing things slightly off for the rest of the row. Abandoning that and lining up the '1' of '12' and '13' as best one can…


…the concordance is really very close, with only a slight difference observable with the 'J'. One wonders how many measurements On Kawara was marking on each canvas before painting his letters. He would have drawn parallel lines marking the top and the bottom of the row of letters and numbers. Then he would have made a number of marks to indicate exactly where each number/letter should start and finish. And then he must have done a whole lot of minute checks and balances so that he was satisfied with the end result. His Date Painting passes the unaided human eye test. But did it help with the problem in Nigeria? Well, it prevented On Kawara from thinking about it too much. It helped get it into some kind of perspective. War and killing goes on regardless of the work of monks, scholars and artists.

And so the monastic days passed…

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

Subtitles, from left to right: a Soviet Union census is in progress; an Israeli archaeological discovery; the Tago-Sato-Kosaka comet; the New York poor waiting in vain for a millionaire to give away dollars; an incident at Cairo airport involving Israeli planes; a San Diego woman travels to Mexico to save money on her shopping. One might think that On Kawara was alone in his studio, concentrating hard on perfecting his own self-appointed task, but, through his reading and visualising, he was open to everything that was happening all round the globe. The grain of sand at the centre of the universe. Jan.17 calls out to Jan.19 as the poor find novel ways of grubbing for that precious commodity called dollar.

It was on January 20, 1970, that the artist sent his first 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegram, following the three preliminary telegrams that went off in December, 1969. The
SILENCE catalogue tells us that the telegram itself is deceptive as it records the time of delivery, not of its posting. Dorothy and Herbert Vogel were unusual art collectors (both had normal jobs) who lived in the same part of New York as On Kawara. At least from 340 East 13th Street to 365 East 86th Street doesn't seem like much of a stretch to me.

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

Not only was On Kawara still alive, his project was firing on all cylinders…

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

Let me pick out two subtitles from the six:

JAN.20: "The United States' major airlines agree today to meet the three-year deadline proposed by the Nixon Administration for eliminating most of the smoke pollution from jet aircraft."

That seems so contemporary. It might just as well say. "The United States airlines agree today to meet the three-year deadline proposed by the Biden Administration for eliminating most of the carbon emissions from jet aircraft."

JAN. 23: "A death-mask stolen, of James Joyce."

"A death mask stolen, of Philip Roth." Was it Philip Roth? Or some other male writer stripped of iconic status by society's fast-changing gender values ?

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

And two more from this six:

JAN.28: "The Government of South Africa refused today to give a visa to Arthur Ashe, the American Negro tennis player, to play in the South African open championships."

"A policeman from Minneapolis refused to take his knee of the neck of George Floyd, the black American accused of trying to use a counterfeit $20 bill, until he was lying dead on the street."

Of course, that didn't happen today, April 22, 2021, but the policeman was found guilty yesterday, or the day before, so that all remains fresh in everyone's mind.

JAN. 30: "Prices on the New York Stock Exchange fell today to their lowest levels in more than six years."

"Prices on the New York Stock Exchange rose today to their highest levels in more than six years."

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

I'll paraphrase the above row of painting subtitles. But I'm not going to miss any out. That doesn't seem right:

JAN.31: Nixon on inflation.

FEB1: Israel and Syria fighting in the Golan Heights.

FEB 2: Death of Bertrand Russell, aged 97.

FEB.3: 19 of 19,000 policemen in Britain are coloured.

FEB 3: Theft of rockets in Thailand.

FEB. 4: I'd better give this subtitle in full, as it is nuanced: "In Washington, Dr. Glenn T. Seaborg, chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, told Congress today that the age of triumphant science and technology was forcing man into a new philosophical era based on the 'why' of living."

Was that suggesting that 'the triumph of science and technology' was giving people more time to think about life?

Was that why, on February 5, artist On Kawara wrote a telegram to Sol le Witt to inform him that he was 'STILL ALIVE'?

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

Where is 117 Hester Street? It's in the south of Manhattan, close to where Dan Graham lived at 87 Eldridge Street. Don't forget about Dan Graham, he'll be moving centre stage shortly. But I have to take you through this stage of daily productivity, one day at time. I really do. By the way, On Kawara sent nineteen 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams between Jan 20 and March 31, when the daily Date Painting exercise came to an end. That's one every three or four days. Whereas the Date Paintings, the postcards, the I WENT maps, and the I MET lists, were produced daily.

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

FEB. 5: Tanzania moves towards socialism.

FEB 6: A Greek composer is alive and well in Oropos Detention Camp north of Athens.

FEB. 7: South African archaeologists report the world's oldest mine at 43,000 years old.

FEB. 8: A huge bomb goes off at the South Vietnamese National Press Centre in Saigon.

FEB.9: An 18-month-old Missouri boy is bitten to death by his mother's dog.

FEB. 10: An avalanche in Val d'Isere, France, kills 39 young skiers.

I wonder if On Kawara did his reading as he waited for his paint to dry. In any case, the painting complements what is happening in the world. People are living and dying, just as they've always done. While one man lives his one and only life, quietly, meditatively, wisely… Wisely or whimsically?… On Kawara is pleased that the Greek composer has been found alive and well, and that Tanzania is moving towards socialism. He is saddened by the bomb that went off in Saigon due to mining in South Africa that took place 43,000 years ago, the explosion causing an avalanche in France and a dog to go berserk in Missouri.

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

FEB. 11: In expectation of attacks on Cairo, car-owners are given 24 hours to paint their headlights blue.

FEB. 12: A Liberian tanker, full of a million gallons of oil, sinks in 100 feet of water off Nova Scotia, Canada.

FEB. 13: Bank robbers steal 40,000 dollars from a bank in Danbury, Connecticut, after setting off bombs in bank, police station and parking lot.

I'm writing all this in the present tense. But remember that On Kawara reads about the day that he's painted in the
following day's paper. But the newspaper cutting, placed in the box, is from the same day as On Kawara painted. Which goes some way to explaining why there is often no relationship between subtitle and cutting. Which adds to the complexity of what's going on.

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

FEB. 14: North Korea lets some passengers go from a South Korean airliner hijacked two months before.

FEB. 15: The Seine, swollen by days of rain and snow, spills over its banks in Paris.

FEB. 16: The 4 million people of Cairo feast, dance and sing under warm sun.

Does the pleasure of the people of Cairo come at the expense of the people of Paris? Will the people of Paris be up next week, and the people of Cairo down? Can hijacking a plane make these adjustments happen more quickly, or do they just interfere with the natural equilibrium of it all?

To hijack and to kidnap are deplorable events, causing intense fear and pain. Yet such events emerge from grievances, fear and pain that have gone on for a long time. They are not just deplorable. They are checks and balances too.

OK let's conduct another technical check, just to make sure things are ticketyboo on the Date Painting front.


The lower part of the 'B' in February is wider in the painting of the 17th rather than the 18th. The '7' is a wider number than the '8', but '1970' is similarly placed in the two pictures. On Kawara has compensated for the extra width of the 7, by tucking the comma underneath it. Visually that decision seems to make sense. Though it does mean that the placing of the comma is markedly different in the two Date Paintings.

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

FEB. 17: Spread of Deadly Viral Fever in Nigeria,

FEB. 18: Report of a Chicago trial where defendants were acquitted of plotting to incite a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

FEB. 19: U.S. B-52's bomb North Vietnamese supply depots.

FEB. 20: Friday

FEB. 21: Laotian Government troops driven from their positions in Laos.

FEB. 22: A 14-year old stowaway Australian boy falls to his death as the plane's undercarriage retracts above Sydney.

So what happened on Friday that was too dreadful to write out? Let me guess. While a US B-52 dropped its bombs on North Vietnam, a 14-year-old Australian boy fell to his death there. Meanwhile the deadly viral fever spread out from Nigeria until the whole of Africa was engulfed by it.

I've moved the Guggenheim book onto the floor. Because it's to be joined now by the Glenstone volume.


Starting on February 21, On Kawara began sending postcards to Dan Graham. Always the same card, an aerial view of the Statue of Liberty on its small island in New York harbour. A double-page of the Glenstone book shows 30 of the cards. He kept this up until July, which means he sent more than 120 days of Statue of Liberty cards to Dan Graham.

Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the Guggenheim and Glenstone Museum.

Below are the first three. OK, so On Kawara is 'still alive'. But I wonder if it's possible to say more? Such as, 'On Kawara is feeling on top of the world, a world of sadness and war'. Or 'On Kawara can relax about everything when he communicates with his pal, Dan'. Or 'On Kawara got up at 5.20P.M'. My God, that Apollo Moon mission must have really taken it out of On Kawara. He'd never recovered from that. Once an astronaut, always lost in space.

Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Glenstone Museum, and thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Back to the Date Paintings. Where were we? Getting towards the end of the second month of this three-month marathon.

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

FEB. 23: The Soviet Union's anti-missile defences.

FEB. 24: Hawaii's abortion law to be the most liberal in the United States.

FEB. 25: A controversial portrait of Queen Elizabeth is revealed in London.

FEB. 26: President Nixon to send ground troops to fight in Laos?

FEB. 27: The Crown Prince of Nepal gets married against the snow-draped Himalayas.

FEB. 28: India and Pakistan in deadlock re the distribution of the waters of the Ganges.

Most depressing of that six? FEB.28. Most trivial? FEB.25. Perhaps the portrait of Queen Elizabeth could be given to the people of India in return for that country waiving its rights to the waters of the Ganges. Not enough? OK, throw in the Soviet Unions' anti-missile defence system and Hawai's anti-abortion laws. Deal? Great, let's celebrate by attending the marriage of President Nixon and the Crown Prince of Nepal against a backdrop of the snow-draped Himalayas. Is that not where the waters of the Ganges comes from? Aw-aw, I think there's going to be trouble.

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

MAR.1: The socialist party wins Australia's national election.

MAR. 2: Italy evacuates 6,000 dwellers from the north shore of the Bay of Naples.

MAR. 3: Japan's highest building, the World Trade Centre, opens for business.

MAR.4: Britain, the Netherlands and West Germany sign a treaty concerning a new process of enriching uranium.

MAR. 5: The treaty to stop the spread of atomic weapons goes into effect today, the U.S and the Soviet Union hoping it will curb the arms race.

The New York Times

I could play games with all that, but I'm not going to. Partly because the set of six is arbitrary. Why not a calendar week? Well, sure, but then the pattern would simply be a little different. The same themes constantly crop up. How people get on with each other, via elections, treaties, wars and commerce. I picture the World Trade Centre in Japan with 6000 Italians evacuated from the Bay of Naples chilling out on the 14th floor… Britain, Holland and Germany signing a treaty about uranium enrichment on the 20th floor… Australian socialists having a party on the 40th floor… And, right at the top of the building, an American and a Russian shaking hands on an anti-nuclear war initiative... It's that handshake that makes it onto the front page of the New York Times which is being edited on the 30th floor… Looks like I have played a game with those subtitles after all. No wonder they called it the World Trade Centre.

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

MAR.6: A fire at 18 West 11th Street, New York, kills a man and destroys a four-storey building.

MAR. 7: Solar eclipse in North America. Nixon announces wide-ranging space goals for the 1970s.

MAR. 8: Guatamalan guerrillas release a US diplomat after holding him hostage for 39 hours.

MAR.9: Residents of the Isle of Dogs, East London, celebrate 'independence'.

MAR. 10: Sweden asks United Nations for agreements to control pollution.

MAR.11: Erle Stanley Gardner, detective novel writer, dies aged 80.

When On Kawara notices something happening in Britain, it's often comical. Tragedy lies elsewhere. Viet Nam. Wisdom lies elsewhere. Sweden.

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

MAR.12: The Nevada Gaming Commission begins to license makers of casino supplies.

MAR. 13: The Brazilian Government agree to the demands of the kidnappers of a Japanese consul general.

MAR. 14: Meeting in Moscow to discuss anti-Viet Cong outbursts in Soviet Union.

MAR.15: Expo' 70 opens in Senri Hills north of Osaka, Japan.

MAR. 16: Cambodia opens talks with the Vietcong on the presence of their troops in this neutral country.

MAR.17: Malaysia and Indonesia sign a new treaty of friendship.

Those subtitles reflect major interests: Viet Nam, Japan and war, and the desirability of avoiding war. MAR.12: Maybe gambling can take people minds off war. Well, no, because the gambler soon becomes broke, but his addiction means he has to get more money from somewhere. And he goes to war for it. MAR.15: Maybe trade can do the trick. Well, no, because there is always something the consumer wants to buy next, and that costs money which is what he's run out of. And he goes to war in order to get his hands on easy money.

The Date Painting (the poverty, the war, the anti-war resolutions) just goes on and on, so I'll take break from it. For, see below, things are not going smoothly on the 'I GOT UP' front:

Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Glenstone Museum, and thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

It looks like Dan Graham had not been receiving his postcards. Clearly he was living in La Jolla, California, and another resident of 84 Eldridge Street finally got round to redirecting a couple of cards to him there. Presumably the other cards were in a pile somewhere at 84 Eldridge Street, either in the entrance hall or in Dan Graham's room

On Kawara paints on, oblivious to the fate of his daily postcards. His job finishes the second the postcard enters the postal system.

But hang on a minute. Surely On Kawara knew that Dan Graham was in California. Dan would have told him that. And, if not, then On would have heard it on the grapevine. So maybe On Kawara had in mind his friend coming on all the cards at once. It seems that On Kawara never stopped playing games.

On March 18 he painted
three Date Paintings.

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

MAR. 18: The Chief of State of Cambodia is overthrown in his absence.

MAR. 18: Civilians and soldiers withdraw from Long Tieng, Laos, as the US-supported base falls to North Vietnamese troops.

MAR. 18: The US's first postal strike begins in New York.

That's the three. Cambodia and Laos seem to have been drawn into the Viet Nam war zone. But On Kawara can't tell Dan Graham because a postal strike has hit New York.

MAR.19: The leaders of East and West Germany meet to find common interests.

MAR. 20: A Cambodian Army commander asked for help against the Vietcong from an American spotter plane and South Vietnamese artillery.

MAR.21: Saturday

As far as I know, March 18, 1970, was the only occasion On Kawara painted three DPs in one day. Would that be to distract himself from the postal strike? Would he have painted them consecutively or would he have had all three on the go at once? Well, let's see what time he got up on both the 18th and 19th. Let's consult the postcards that were lying unread at 84 Eldridge Street.

Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Glenstone Museum, and thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation..

What incredible getting up times. You would have thought that if On Kawara was going to make a special effort to paint three DPs on the 18th he would have got up in the morning! And as he had to have finished them all by midnight, did he then go to do some other activity to account for the 2.45pm rise on the 19th?

Let's check out the technique as we enter the final straight of this DP-per-day effort, by overlaying the three possible combinations of two March 18 Date Paintings, and see how close the correspondence is:


Pretty close I'd say. On Kawara was no machine, but his hand-crafted paintings come near to the quality expected in the machine age.

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

MAR. 22: 1,000,000,000,000 dollars has been spent on arms and armed forces around the world in the last six years.

MAR. 23: In the Congo 50 rebel commandos take over
a radio station and announce the overthrowing of the President.

MAR. 24: In the Dominican Republic, guerrillas kidnap a US air attaché, demanding the release of 21 prisoners.

MAR.25: Lebanon is tense after fighting between Palestinian commandos and mountain villagers.

MAR. 26: The four powers that occupied Germany after World War 2 meet in Berlin to discuss tensions.

MAR.27: South Vietnamese troops launch their first major operation into Cambodia.

All those subtitles are about war. Wars of the past and present, and portents of war to come. And see the cost in dollars. The cost in death is high too.

Q: How many dollars does it take to kill a person?

A: How many dollars have you got?

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

MAR. 28: American troops are given permission to cross into Cambodia in response to enemy threats.

MAR. 29: An earthquake shakes western Turkey, killing 600 people.

MAR. 30: Monday

MAR.30: The British Royal family begin tour of Australia on the 200th anniversary of its 'discovery'.

MAR. 31: Fifteen radical left students hijack a Japan Air Lines plane and order it to fly to North Korea.

Sure there are problems in the world, but nothing a Royal visit can't sort out. So how about, on Monday, diverting the Royal party to Turkey where they can distribute inferior portraits of the Queen. Yes, let's get those radical left students to hijack the Royal plane and order it to fly to Turkey, first,
then North Korea.

On Kawara had done it. Despite everything that the world had thrown at him, the artist had stuck to his self-appointed task, At least one Date Painting made every day for three months: 97 paintings in 90 days.

No time to relax though, not with all his other commitments. It was on April 1st, while still sending an I GOT UP card each day to Dan Graham, he had sent the first one to Hirotsugo Aoki. As one might surmise from the photo below, Hirotsugu Aoki received cards for a whole month.

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

The most significant things about these cards - for me - is the address of the recipient. 97 Crosby Street. That's the place that On Kawara stopped the day he returned from Mexico, on the way to Hiroko's flat on Greene Street. It was On Kawara's base for the second week or so of his return. So perhaps this Hirotsugu was a close friend of On Kawara's. And perhaps he had a spare room. So who was he? He was interviewed in 2020, by Charity Robey, writing for Shelter Island Reporter, from which this is an extract:


This suggests that On Kawara was not so rich at the time. It suggests that 97 Crosby Street might have been the 'unheated loft' that Aoki mentions. And it suggests that if he had moved in to Professor O'Connor's nice warm apartment, then it may have suited On Kawara to take on the room, as it was so close to Hiroko's flat. All speculation, so I'll move on.

But before doing so, I'll mention that Hirotsugu Aoki and On Kawara shared quite a lot. Firstly, they shared a traumatic Japanese upbringing, despite Kawara being ten years the senior, the traffic accident having the same devastating effect on one as the dropping of the atomic bomb had had on the other. That and their immigrant status in New York, and a shared interest in cutting-edge contemporary art, may have been the basis for a close friendship.

From the end of April, On Kawara stopped sending a card to Hirotsugu Aoki (Aoki may not even have seen them, if he really had moved in with his girlfriend, in which case On Kawara had been sending cards to himself. That is, sending cards from where he was working (340 East 13th Street) to where he was living (97 Crosby Street). Tricky birds, artists.

On Kawara painted just two Date Paintings in April, following the Herculean efforts of January, February and March. Both had Apollo 13 subtitles:

APR.15, 1970: "The astronauts of Apollo 13, struggling homeward in their damaged spaceship, fired a rocket tonight to improve their earthward course — and their chance for a safe splashdown in the Pacific Ocean the day after tomorrow afternoon."

APR.17,1970: "The final sequence in the homeward journey of a stricken Apollo 13 is to begin at 8.23 A.M. today, 42,000 miles from earth, when the craft's lifeless service module is jettisoned. At 11.53A.M., 12,000 miles from earth, lunar module is to be discarded. Command module is to prepare for re-entry into earth's atmosphere by turning heat shield forward."

At the beginning of May the second postcard (the one to Dan Graham was ongoing) began to be addressed to Herman van Eelen. These were to persist for four months.

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

The following paragraph is taken from Image and Text in Conceptual Art, by Eve Kalyva.


This is another story that reflects well on On Kawara. As he stamped out each postcard he may have been thinking about Herman and his mother in their respective prisoner of war camps. Their days full of demeaning duties, hunger and fear. In contrast, On Kawara was a free man, but he had respect for those of an older generation who had fought on the side of freedom and suffered for it.

Day after day a card for Herman van Eelen would arrive.


A triumph of the human spirit. And I can imagine Herman being moved to tears as he received each precious card with the same welling up of feeling that he'd felt on receiving each precious card from his poor mother, when his and her existences were, in all other respects, a living nightmare.

Meanwhile, the cards were piling up at 84 Eldridge Street, with Dan Graham still being in California. On May 5, another card had the Californian address written on it in a futile attempt to stem the flow of statues of liberty. And, throughout the rest of May, a total of eight of the cards had a single line drawn through the 84 Eldridge Street address. Presumably these were put in the post and would have been returned to sender. That is, On Kawara sitting like a trim Buddha at 340 East 13th Street.

Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Glenstone Museum, and thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation..

I'm going to finish the first half of On Kawara's 1970 by truly celebrating these cards to Dan Graham. Look - the penultimate one is not even stamped. The Post Office has given up.

Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Glenstone Museum, and thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

I can imagine that Dan Graham sent a single letter in response, whose message may have read something like this:

'Hey, On, buddy, I've just got 'em. A pile of 100-odd. Great stuff. But is the old lady on the pedestal talking to me, a Jew, and you, a Jap? Are we truly among the tempest-tossed she's up for saving?

I'm told that Buzz Aldrin reckoned he could see the Statue of Liberty from the surface of the moon, though Neil Armstrong reckoned Buzz was hallucinating the entire time he was moonside. I'm told too that Apollo 13 came within a few yards of crashing into the Statue of Liberty. Why do people tell me such crappy things?

The Statue of Liberty would be a great place for a true American to commit suicide. He wouldn't even need a rope. He'd just climb all the way up the stairs to the viewing platform in the crown. Then all the way up the ladder in the arm to the viewing platform in the torch. Then he'd simply toss himself off into space. Can you hear me, Joseph Kosuth? How the New York art world would cry crocodile tears!

Look, I'm back in the shittiest city on the planet. I'm up-up-up and dressed. Let's meet. I want to talk about this great idea you've given me for 'Homes in America'. Postcard wallpaper! Message-side to the fore in most rooms, certainly the bedroom. The idea being that the American people need to get their asses out of their beds, cos one little Japanese guy sure is already up, and he's kickin' the ball right out of the park.'

Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Glenstone Museum, and thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

I have enormous respect for On Kawara. And I'm beginning to develop a soft spot for Dan Graham, entirely thanks to On Kawara's friendship with him. I've just ordered a book of Dan Graham's writings with which I plan to make the above letter more authentic. I might as well find out what he was doing in California, and use it to inform future Dan Graham appearances.

Did I say respect? Respect due also to these two books that I'm closing, at least for now.


The Date Paintings - from the beginning of January to the end of March - were exhibited at the 10th Tokyo Biennale from May to July, 1970. On Kawara had paved the way for this the year before, with his postcards to Toshiaki Minemura. It seems from the installation shot, below, that the work would have had an incredible impact on those who saw it. (On Kawara remained in New York.) Or maybe it was still too soon after Hiroshima and Nagasaki for mere art to have a big impact on the people of Japan.


The installation shot reminds me of the photos of On Kawara's original loft studio at 405 East 13th Street in 1966. Only there the paintings were of various sizes (especially size A, B and E), not just size B. And there Kawara had a whole year's worth of A's and Bs hanging on the wall and a row of E's resting on the floor.

On reflection, I prefer the photos where the size of the paintings varies. In the Tokyo set-up you just might get the impression that the artist had been going through the motions and not giving his all to each and every Date Painting.

Something else monumental happened to On Kawara in 1970. I mean he launched another original and ambitious project, that was born out of the 'I AM STILL ALIVE' idea, indeed complemented it in the most glorious way. But I need a fresh page and a new day to tackle that.

Next page.