- On Kawara
- signed on the reverse of the canvas
- liquitex on canvas with newspaper clipping from the New York Times in artist's cardboard box
Sale: Christie's, London, Contemporary Art, 21 June 2007, Lot 539
Private Collection, London
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
Amongst the many artists of the 1960s who aspired to formulate an artistic theorem that could be endlessly repeated by emphasising the idea of the work over its material execution, On Kawara is one of the few who has consistently lived up to the promise of such a conceptual basis. When he started to work on the date paintings in the mid-1960s, the artist decided that he would finish his canvasses in one day, always with the date (according to the local formatting) at the centre of the canvas, and usually with white symbols on a black background – although sometimes, as in the present work, on a coloured background. The canvas was then stored in a hand-made box, accompanied by a local newspaper clipping from the same date.
Although this pre-determined approach to art-making indeed has its roots in the conceptualism of the 1960s, On Kawara’s paintings occupy an ambiguous position in relation to their art-historical context. Intriguingly, the artist’s decision to execute his Today pieces in painting is somewhat counter-intuitive. Whereas the vast majority of his contemporaries abandoned painting in favour of photography and film, the artist chose a medium that is least associated with conceptual strategies – pointing to the conceptual possibilities of a medium that was soon to be declared dead. Moreover, despite their seemingly dry conceptual nature, the content of the works can actually have very strong individual connotations, referring to the dates of highly personal events. The execution might therefore be predetermined, but their contextual and semantic function occupies a shifting territory that can either be deeply personal or straightforwardly bureaucratic.
The date paintings therefore constitute an intriguing temporal framework; a highly personal index of the passing of time that simultaneously engages with a range of art-historical issues. “On Kawara’s work, in all its simplicity and soberness, is an intriguing rendering of the ‘time’ phenomenon. He reduces the intangible, inconceivable dimension of time to a visible, ordered structure without forfeiting any of that infinity” (Karel Schampers, 'A Mental Journey in Time' in: Exhibition Catalogue, Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, On Kawara: Date Paintings in 89 Cities, 1991, p. 200).