Lot 27
  • 27

On Kawara

bidding is closed


  • On Kawara
  • NOV. 30, 1985
  • titled and dated NOV.30,1985; signed on the reverse

  • liquitex on canvas
  • 46 by 61cm.
  • 18 1/8 by 24in.


Galerie Meert Rihoux, Brussels
Claude Noterdame, Brussels
Sale: Sotheby's, London, Contemporary Art, 2 July 1998, lot 159
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

Catalogue Note

This work belongs to the Today series, no. 41, 1985 and is sold with a handmade cardboard box and a newspaper clipping from the New York Post dated Saturday, November 30, 1985.

On November 30th 1985, On Kawara made this painting. Probably begun in the early morning and completed by midnight between doing all of the normal things in the daily routine such as eating, drinking, reading the newspaper and meeting friends, this painting, as much as anything else was a declaration of existence. The presentation with the newspaper of the same day and same city in which he was currently working not only located the artist in time but also place. In the context of his daily Postcard works, telegrams and communications which were sent to friends and associates around the world declaring amongst other things “I am still Alive” and “I got up at 8.43 A.M”, these works built up a picture of the importance of life and the impending presence of death in the making of art.


The Today series of date paintings stand as some of the most important documents in the history of Conceptual Art. Begun in the mid 1960s and still being continued today, 40 years on, these works provide the heartbeat to one of the most profound oeuvres in the movement. As one of the key Conceptual artists, On Kawara was one of the first to recognise the poetry of the idea as the basis for a radical new art form. At a time in the 1960s when the pre-dominant cultural interest was in the visual concepts of Pop Art, artists such as Kawara, Joseph Kosuth and Bruce Nauman were developing, along with the Minimalist artists, an entirely new aesthetic based on an art which lay as much in the thought behind the work as in the work itself. In a world which was becoming ever more complex in its imagistic make-up, these artists found beauty in the simpified coherence of the everyday. Their ideas-based aesthetic would come to have a profound effect on the major artists in the following generations such as Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst.


The notion of time is central to Kawara’s oeuvre and was established as the dominant theme for this, his most well-known and enduring series. Whereas in his earliest paintings and drawings the date was located peripherally, in the Today series the dates are not only central to the composition but also to the concept. The importance of the idea however, did not detract from the quality of the execution of the object. On the contrary, the way that these works were made was crucial and the craftsmanship involved in the production of a Today painting is extraordinary. As Jonathan Watkins has explained: “Four coats of paint are carefully applied to the ground, with enough time elapsing between for drying, followed by a rubbing down in preparation for subsequent coats. The outlines of the text are carefully drawn and then filled in with several coats of white paint with the use of tapered brushes, a ruler and set square, an x-acto blade and a brush for dusting. A considerable amount of time is spent eliminating imperfections, making minute adjustments to the outlines and fine-tuning the composition overall.” (in: Jonathan Watkins, On Kawara, London 2002, p. 78). Thus, the process would take a full day to complete, an act which fittingly completed the concept.