In Untitled (Decade), each canvas is immaculate and refined in its composition, with the date composed in the language and convention of Kawara's specific location on the day of each painting's creation. Adhering to an invariably consistent method of production, Kawara began each canvas with four layers of paint, which were meticulously sanded to maintain a pristine uniformity. He then stenciled the date in sans-serif font, filling in the text with bright white paint. Any irregularities or imperfections were dutifully erased in order to achieve a mechanically-executed appearance. If the painting remained unfinished by midnight, it was destroyed rather than altering the pure truth of the date itself. While the paintings take the size of one of eight predetermined dimensions, Kawara predominantly executed canvases in the smaller 8x10 inch format as seen in the present work while he was traveling. In the present work, the consistency achieved through ten paintings of the same size underscores the banner-like physicality of these "specific objects." As evidenced by Kawara’s obsession with rote repetition, his practice fell perfectly in line with concurrent artistic advancements that advocated an increasingly emphatic depersonalization of the art object. In harnessing the aesthetic tenets of Minimalism within the theoretical framework of Conceptual art, Kawara successfully achieved one of the most poignant fusions between two major currents of radical art in the postwar era.
Kawara produced his Date Paintings in over one hundred international cities, effectively transforming this series into a personal travelogue and roaming narration of an ever-changing world. As Kawara’s studio was a portable concept, the vicissitudes of time and place were negligible factors, allowing his production to exist autonomously beyond the limitations of location; with minimal materials, he could make paintings anywhere and anytime. The idea of Kawara’s work transcending barriers of the ‘where’ and ‘when’ poses a certain contradiction, for his paintings inherently depend on and will forever be determined by time and place. Functioning as indexical signs of a particular moment in time, Kawara’s Date Paintings are self-proclaiming markers of the “present moment,” yet paradoxically, as soon as a canvas is completed, the date refers to a time already past. Elaborating on the temporality of the Date Paintings, Anne Rorimer stated, "The significance of these paintings lies in the fact that they depict not only a date, but also their own date. If, historically, paintings have been fixed in time by a date on the front or back of the canvas, the date itself for Kawara becomes the subject of the painting and the sole embodiment of the work's figurative imagery... Letters and numbers, which may be perceived as independent objects, allow an otherwise immaterial date to assume material form. The date paintings thus succeed in turning abstract, temporal measurement into the concrete reality of painting." (Anne Rorimer in Exh. Cat., New York, Guggenheim Museum, On Kawara--Silence, 2015)
Included alongside the accompanying artist-made cardboard box for each canvas in the present work, Kawara attached a page from the newspaper of the city in which he created the painting. Kawara's inclusion of the newspaper functions as an anchor that ties the existential integrity of the date to the temporal reality of the greater world. Contrasted against the stark and impersonal presentation of the date, the content of each newspaper clipping incites an infinite number of personal associations and emotive connections that viewers can ascribe to the dates, or to the memorialization of the decade as a whole. Despite the fact that the dates within Untitled (Decade) are fragmented by ten distinct years, these dates are connected by similar geographical locations, including New York, Paris, and Fujinomiya, Japan, and the underlying social and political concerns of this decade in history. Most importantly, the newspaper grounds the Today series in the world of continual flux, acting as a temporal gauge of the events and images in the ongoing, daily reality. As curator Rene Denizot observed, “Each piece is a finished product, a point in a calendar. But in the contemplation of the series of days devoted to the task of making these paintings, we glimpse a sign of life beyond the dated works themselves, on the horizon of an unlimited time: an act of rupture within the continuity of time.” (Rene Denizot, On Kawara, London, 2002, p. 114) On Kawara’s astounding record of the continuity of time, renders his work of tantamount importance in the history of modern art. A quintessential work, executed with unparalleled tenacity and conceptual vision, Untitled (Decade) is exceptional for its incredibly unique ten-part presentation of the Date Paintings that have become iconically synonymous with On Kawara’s name.
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