Lot 12
  • 12

On Kawara

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 USD
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  • On Kawara
  • Untitled (Decade)
  • signed on the reverse of each canvas
  • Liquitex on canvas with newspaper clipping in artist's box, in 10 parts
  • each: 8 by 10 in. 20.3 by 25.4 cm.
  • Executed consecutively between 1990-1999.


David Zwirner, New York
Private Collection, Germany
Christie's, New York, May 13, 2008, Lot 38 (consigned by the above)
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen; Hamburg, Deichtorhallen; Boston, Museum of Fine Arts; and San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, On Kawara: Date Paintings in 89 Cities, December 1991 - April 1993, no. 82, p. 170, illustrated in color (in installation) and p. 173, illustrated in color (only 11. Nov. 1990 exhibited)


Candida Höfer: On Kawara, Date Paintings in Private Collections, Cologne, 2009, p. 93, illustrated in color (in installation)

Catalogue Note

On Kawara’s seminal Today series is a consecrated icon of Conceptual art, exemplifying a chronological investigation into time and its function as an existential record of daily human life. Beginning on January 4, 1966 and continuing until Kawara’s death in 2014, each painting in the Today series is flawlessly marked with the date on which it was created. Demonstrating a superbly rare arrangement of the Date Paintings hand-selected and compiled by the artist, Untitled (Decade) is presented as a progression of ten canvases, each representing a single date from 1990 to 1999. By organizing and arranging the individual Date Paintings according to a new and distinct set of temporal parameters, as masterfully evinced in the present work, our consideration of time is manipulated and multiplied. Time, as a force, not only exists within the calendric confines of a twenty-four hour period, but is aggrandized to enumerate a holistic spectrum of the 1990s. In the present work, each of the ten dates--once singular and sovereign--become a minute component of a collective ‘macro’ whole, repeating along the wall in a serial progression reminiscent of Minimalist sculptures by Donald Judd and Dan Flavin. Viewed as a comprehensive sequence, the present work revels in the nuanced differences between a rich range of colors from electric cobalt blue, dark green-grey, deep navy, and hues that verge on pure black. These meticulously painted monochrome fields, and the stark numbers and letters contained within them, encapsulate Kawara’s desire to capture the fleeting and immaterial concept of time through the immutable framework of ten physical totems. Boasting an unparalleled synthesis of Kawara’s Date Paintings in the format of a decade-long snapshot, Untitled (Decade) endures as a nostalgic reflection on the 1990s: the consummate decade of the artist’s prolific career.

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.