1969 (3)

16 April, 2021. Not much of a break for me, then.

On Kawara began painting again on the 1st of August, and made five Date Paintings in the month, all either size B or C. The subtitle that catches my attention is for August 11: "The treasure was being shipped to Spain in 1553 by the Spanish viceroy of Mexico, Luis de Valesco, for use by Emperor Charles V 'in defence of the Catholic religion and of his kingdom.' It never arrived in Spain. The fleet was sunk by a storm." I read it as metaphor for On Kawara and his treasure of Date Paintings, moving them from Mexico to New York. Luckily, in his case, the means of transport was not scuppered.

I MET, I WENT and I GOT UP would all have been carrying on in August. I'm almost glad none of it is reproduced in books or catalogues, I don't want to get bogged down in such detail right now. Though some day I'd like to come back to it. There's no way I can cover everything in this phase of research.

Another five Date Paintings in September, again all size B or C. Three of the subtitles concern relatively poor people losing their territory or demonstrating against low wages. And then there's this for September 24: "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." It puts me in mind of the opening section of
2001: A Space Odyssey.

By October, On Kawara was back into his stride. He made ten Date Paintings, all size B. By chance a new book has just arrived in the post and a scrutiny of it reveals where three of these October paintings have ended up.

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

Before I go into that, I should say it's a splendid book, without any distracting text. Not even any blurb on the flaps of the dust wrapper. It was published in Cologne by Walther König, who I'm guessing is related to Kasper König. Indeed the collections of several members of the König family are glimpsed in the book, which is systematically photographed by Candida Höfer. What I mean is, the photographs are shown in the order they were taken as she travelled round the world: Europe, North America, Japan and Europe again, beginning on May 4, 2004, and completing her enviable task on August 15, 2007.

The subtitle for OCT.7,1969 is "Montreal's 3,700 policemen struck for more money today and many of the 2,400 firemen followed suit." The painting itself hangs in a private house in the United States, as shown below. Try not to be distracted by the garments hanging up in the hall. Also, these are not particularly good reproductions. The actual photographs in the book are sharp and luscious.

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

Stripped of all the other art and ephemera, leaving only the architecture and the Date Painting would have pleased my eye more.

The subtitle for October 9, 1969, is simply "Conceptual Art." One has to enter a private house in Brussels in order to see where that hangs now, second from the left of a line of twelve Date Paintings. (You can make out the date more easily in the actual book.) Indeed, you can see that this collector would seem to have managed to get hold of a Date Painting in every year from 1968 to 1979.

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

Lounger one: "What next?"

Lounger two: "1980, I suppose."

Lounger one: "Notwithstanding 1967."

Lounger two: "True."

Lounger one: "Or 1966."

Lounger two: "Oh, don't rub it in!"

I know where the idea for that dialogue comes from. The subtitle of October 23 is: "In Stockholm, Samuel Beckett was announced today as the winner of the 1969 Nobel Prize in Literature." The Nobel jury did themselves, not Beckett, a big favour that year, giving the prize a gravitas that it had previously lacked.

Here is On Kawara's I READ for that day, reproduced from the
SILENCE catalogue. The sentence that On Kawara used as his subtitle comes from words that he'd underlined. Though I like the way his pen does an approving loop through the following paragraph: "The selection committee, comprising members of the Swedish Academy, cited him 'for his writing which - in new forms for the novel and drama - in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation." Actually, the squiggle may be one of dissatisfaction with the mangled sentence construction.

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

I see that
Waiting for Godot is underlined in red biro too.

On Kawara is known to have admired the novels of Jean Paul Sartre, such as
Nausea and The Roads to Freedom trilogy. Beckett too was famous for his 'existentialism'. Is life worth living? That is the question. Well, is it?

That is what's known as a 'first world problem', as the subtitle for October 26 brings home: "Palestinian commando leaders at Nahr Al Bared in northern Lebanon reported today that they controlled the Lebanese coast from there nine miles northward to the Syrian border."

This Date Painting (not the Beckett one, I don't know where that is) hangs in the home of a named couple who live in Antwerp, Belgium again.

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

Sitting on the sofa, the line of Date Paintings straight in front of you reads (if you consult the actual Candida Höfer book): August 25, 1966… March 1, 1967… January 18, 1968… October 26, 1969… July 9, 1970.

Lounger one: "What next?"

Lounger two: "Well, not a day in 1966 or 1967, obviously!"

They both laugh.

Lounger one: "Pull on your trousers."

Lounger two: "What?"

Lounger one: "Pull on your trousers."

Lounger two: "You want me to pull off my trousers?"

Lounger one: "Pull ON your trousers."

Lounger two: "Oh, yes!"

Lounger two pulls on his trousers.

Lounger one: "Well? Shall we go?"

Lounger two: "Yes. Let's go."

They do not move.

You may be thinking I'm neglecting On Kawara's I GOT UP series. I'm not, it's just that there's not many postcards for the second half of 1969 out there. In books or on the internet. However, there is this:

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

Lucy Lippard lived on Prince Street, close to both 53 Greene Street and to 97 Crosby Street, as this map shows.

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

It's also true that On Kawara stayed overnight at an address on Prince Street on both April 1 and April 3. But it's not quite the same part of Prince Street, and I don't think On Kawara would have made such a mapping slip, not twice. As you see from the reproduction of April 1, below, going up the page from 53 Greene Street, On Kawara turned right, not left, onto Prince Street. I'll bear this in mind with a view to clarifying the point later.

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

As for Lucy Lippard, she was another long-term player in the New York art world. And she made use of the postcard from her friend for the cover of this book, which was published in 1973.


I'm not sure how many postcards LL received. She was sent another batch in 1973, but the only other card I know about in 1969, is this one:

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

Meanwhile, things were warming up on the Date Painting front. Fifteen were produced in November, beginning with one (Nov.3) mentioning President Nixon's ambition to find peace in Viet Nam, and ending with one (Nov. 26) mentioning Japanese Premier Eisaku Sato's promise that Okinawa would remain free of nuclear weapons after it reverted to Japanese administration in 1972.

However, the dominant theme of the November subtitles is Apollo 12. There are six of these as follows:

NOV.13,1969: "Three American astronauts were ready tonight to embark tomorrow on man's second voyage to land on the moon, a trip aimed at a more thorough scientific investigation into the origin and nature of the earth's only natural satellite."

NOV.14,1969: "Apollo 12 heads for moon."

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 in 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!"

Popular history may have forgotten that Peter Griffin of
Family Guy was one of the men who walked on the moon. Though I dare say Brian's been up there too. And Stewie.

NOV.19,1969: "In SNAP 27 the heat produced by 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."

Let's hope Peter remembered to switch it on.

NOV.20,1969: "Ascent stage and command ship dock. Comdrs. Charles Conrad Jr. and Alan L. Bean crawl through tunnel to rejoin Comdr. Richard F. Gordon Jr."

"Too many chiefs and not enough Indians." That's what Peter said when they got him back to Houston. Ground control couldn't get any more out of him, try as they might. Well, just this ditty:

"The man jus' upped my rent las' night.
('cause Peter's on the moon)
No hot water, no toilets, no lights.
(but Peter's on the moon)

December. Following the 15 DPs in November, there were 22 made in December, all size B. On Kawara was flying again, and what's more he was moving towards something new. Actually, he was moving towards two new things. One of these was the 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams. Although the first of these were sent in January of 1970, as with the I GOT UP postcards, the exact form took a while to finalise. In other words, On Kawara sent three preliminary telegrams to curator Michel Claura on December 5th, 8th and 11th. These would be his contribution to the exhibition '18 Paris IV 1970'. Here is the first of those telegrams:


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

Of course, on many levels it's an absurd message to send as a telegram. It's an absurdist joke that Samuel Beckett would have been proud of making. A telegram from Estragon to Vladimir, or vice versa, between the acts of
Waiting For Godot.

Here is the second of the pre-'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams:

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

This brings to mind a scene involving On Kawara and Dan Graham, set on a corner of Manhattan between Eldridge and Grand Streets.

On Kawara: "Why don't we hang ourselves?"

Dan Graham: "With what?"

OK: "You haven't got a bit of rope?"

DG: "No."

OK: "Then we can't."

DG: "Let's go."

OK: "Wait. There's my belt."

DG: "It's too short."

OK: "You could always hang onto my legs."

DG: "And who'd hang on to mine?"

OK: "Ah, true."

DG: "Show all the same."

On takes off his belt.

DG: "Might do at a pinch. But is it strong enough?"

OK: "We'll soon see."

They pull the belt. It breaks.

DG: "Not worth a curse."

On's trousers fall down.

I'll just break in at this point on behalf of the reader's sensibility. The intelligently attuned reader will want to be reassured that this dialogue is not gratuitous, but comes out of some aspect of On Kawara's practice. Well, let me refer you to Dan Graham. Or at least a conversation that Dan Graham had in 2011 with an interviewer - Sabine Breitwieser, Chief Curator of Media and Performance Art at New York's Museum of Modern Art - for MOMA's Oral Archives.


OK: "You say we have to come back tomorrow."

DG: "Yes."

OK: "Then remind me to bring a good bit of rope."

DG: "Yes."

OK: "Dan."

DG: "Yes."

OKl: "I can't go on like this."

DG: "That's what you think."

OK: "If we parted. It might be better for us."

DG: "We'll hang ourselves tomorrow… Unless God-Not comes."

OK: "And if he comes?"

DG: "We'll be saved."

OK: "Well, shall we go?"

DG: "Pull on your trousers."

OK: "What?"

DG: "Pull on your trousers."

OK: "You want me to pull off my trousers?"

DG: "Pull ON your trousers."

OK: "Oh, yes!"

On pulls on his trousers.

DG: "Well? Shall we go?"

OK: "Yes. Let's go."

They do not move.

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

If it hadn't been for the five days from December 5 to December 9, and the six from December 18 to December 23, On Kawara would have painted (nearly!) every day of December, 1969. That's the other thing he was zeroing-in on. To paint a Date Painting every day for months on end. And that's what he would achieve at the beginning of 1970.

No wonder he was making jokes about suicide.

Don't do it, On! Send me a reassuring telegram, for goodness sake.


God, the relief. It floods through me.

One more thing. The subtitle of the Date painting made on Christmas Day, 1969: "Neil Armstrong and Bob Hope at Da Nang, South Vietnam."

It doesn't get any better than that. Or how about: "Neil Armstrong, Bob Hope and Samuel Beckett at Da Nang, South Vietnam?"

Imagine the high spirits, the boundless vision,
The Lost Ones.

Next page.

POSTSCRIPT: dated May 19, 2021

The Lucy Lippard book mentioned above can be found online. Here is a table from it which lists the postcards she received in 1969. Note the getting up times:


On Kawara got up in the afternoon on every day except November 19 and 20. His days of Date Painting were November 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 18, 18, 19, 19, 19, 20, 26. Therefore the day he made three Date paintings he did have the decency to get up early.

Given that each DP had to be finished by midnight, OK was getting up mid-afternoon (say) and immediately getting on with the painting. He would then be awake long into the night, - all night, in fact - doing what? Perhaps playing some game or other. It would be interesting to know who he MET during this month.

He must have been going to bed around 9am, say. On Kawara couldn't have seen much daylight in November of 1969. Was this a meditative process? If so, it was one in which night became day and day became night.

The long night of the date painter.