Lot 1
  • 1

On Kawara

250,000 - 350,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • On Kawara
  • Oct. 14, 1981
  • titled; signed on the reverse
  • liquitex on canvas with newspaper clipping in artist’s cardboard box 
  • 45.8 by 61cm.; 18 by 24in.
  • Executed in 1981.


Sperone Westwater Fischer, New York

Watari Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (acquired from the above in 1986) 

Alpha Cubic Co. Ltd., Tokyo

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1991


New York, Sperone Westwater Fischer, On Kawara, 1982 


Robert C. Morgan, Del Arte a la Idea: Ensayos sobre arte conceptual, Madrid 2003, p. 25, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colour in the printed catalogue is fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is slightly lighter in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition and comes with the original box and newspaper clipping. The corners of the box's lid are slightly split, but otherwise the box and newspaper clipping are intact and in very good condition. Very close inspection reveals a minute speck of loss and associated rubbing to the centre of the bottom edge of the painting. No restoration is apparent when examined under ultra-violet light.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

“In his work, Kawara is not merely counting or accumulating days and experiences. He has found a means of expressing the vast incommensurability between the scale of human life and the scale of cosmic time.”

Susan Stewart, ‘Annal and Existence: On Kawara’s Date Inscriptions’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Guggenheim Museum, On Kawara – Silence, 2015, p. 172.


Immaculate and simple in form, but extremely powerful in meaning, 14 Oct. 1981 belongs to one of the most representative bodies of works of our time. On Kawara’s Today series, which was recently celebrated in the On Kawara – Silence retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, constitutes both an iconic example of conceptual art and an intriguing contemplation on the phenomenon of time.

At the heart of Kawara’s Today series lies the ritual of painting itself. The artist, who always remained consistent with his method of creation, applied four coats of acrylic paint to the canvas ground, ranging in size from 20.5 by 25.4 centimetres to 155 by 226 centimetres. He then painted the date in the language and convention of whichever country he happened to be in, and, if a work was not finished by midnight of the same day, he destroyed it. The painting was then kept in a hand-made cardboard box lined with a local newspaper clipping from the same place and time. If the date had an abstract connotation, the newspaper anchored it to an actual daily reality. Thus, the series became a diary for the artist, both in personal and world-historical terms.

The act of painting was a process requiring maximum concentration, and it was a form of ritual meditation for On Kawara. The present work is an example of an extremely careful technique, where the colour, a saturated dark blue, was applied with utmost care. Indeed, the artist first covered the canvas by applying paint with a coarse brush and then introduced nuances with a very fine one. As a result, while the intensity of the canvas tone silently resonates from the background, the vibrant letters and numerals seem to burst forth towards the viewer, who is encouraged to contemplate or remember that particular day, thus integrating personal experience into an experience of the painting. Just like in Proust’s novel, where the taste of a madeleine evokes childhood memories within the protagonist, contemplation of the present work sends every beholder in search of a time forever lost.

On Kawara’s Date Paintings are seminal examples of the conceptualism of the 1960s, an artistic thrust characterised by an understanding of art as idea, prior to material execution. In contrast to the practices of many of his contemporaries, Kawara rejected permanent motion and variability in favour of stability and contemplation. However many common elements can be found between On Kawara and his peer Roman Opalka, such as the progression of numbers, dichotomy between finite and infinite, and continuous flow of time in and out of existence. Since 1965, acting with a similar meditative process to Kawara, Opalka painted horizontal rows of numbers from one to infinity, gradually adding 1 per cent more white to his grey canvas. When he died in 2011 he had reached 5.5 million, failing his hope to make it to 7777777 and to be painting white numbers on a white ground.

On Kawara’s focus on the present, which he defined as the only truth, stems from feelings of alienation and loss he experienced as an adolescent during the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The artist maintained his intriguing record of time through the Today series from 1966 until his sudden death last summer in New York, devoting his life to one body of work for over five decades. A quintessential work from one of the most significant bodies of conceptual art, 14 Oct. 1981 thus stands as an exceptional emblem of calm and continuity among the chaos of a constantly changing world.