Lot 18
  • 18

ON KAWARA | Nov. 8, 1989

600,000 - 800,000 GBP
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  • On Kawara
  • Nov. 8, 1989
  • signed on the reverse
  • liquitex on canvas with newspaper clipping in artist's cardboard box
  • canvas: 66.2 by 91.4 cm. 26 1/8 by 36 in.
  • box: 67.5 by 93.3 by 5 cm. 26 5/8 by 36 3/4 by 2 in.


Galerie Max Hetzler, Cologne Private Collection, USA (acquired from the above in 1992)

Christie’s, London, 8 February 2006, Lot 21 (consigned by the above)

Acquired from the above by the present owner


Cologne, Galerie Max Hetzler, On Kawara, October 1990


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is slightly paler in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. Close inspection reveals a small surface irregularity in the lower left quadrant. There is a tiny deposit of yellow paint above the centre of the lower edge. A faint accretion is visible below the centre of the upper edge. There are two faint diagonal linear abrasions above the '1' and the '9' in the upper right quadrant of the composition. A further very small linear abrasion is above the centre left of the lower edge. Inspection under ultra-violet light highlights the minor abrasion above the centre left of the lower edge and also highlights a few very minor splash marks which are imperceptible in natural light. Inspection under ultra-violet light shows no evidence of any retouching. The artist's original cardboard box contains the newspaper clipping. There is some wear to the box, most notable to the corners.
"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

An icon of conceptual art and a philosophical rumination on the brevity of time, On Kawara’s Nov. 8, 1989 forms part of the artist’s seminal Today series. The very first painting was completed on 4 January 1966, and with this work Kawara embarked on a meditative path to create paintings marked with the date of their execution. For nearly five decades until his death in 2014, this extensive series chronicled the artist’s life. Each canvas represents a powerful artistic treatise on the passing of time, an index for a moment that has inextricably vanished. While Kawara’s paintings appear to follow no stringent principle – except that each work must be completed on the same day it was started – some dates inevitably bear historic resonance. Indexing the 9th November 1989, the present work was created the day before the fall of the Berlin Wall.  A historic and significant moment in world history, the Berlin Wall represented a symbol of the Cold War and the oppressive power of an entire regime, separating the Communist Eastern block from the democratic West. Its fall not only announced a period of hope, freedom and optimism but ultimately redefined world politics. Although Kawara’s Today series makes no reference to any particular event, these paintings cannot help but signpost historical moments. Time, as a force, is made palpable in the minimalist aesthetic of the starkly contrasted date set against a monochrome black background. Throughout the series, each date is composed following the language and convention of the place where Kawara made each painting, and, if a work was not finished by midnight of the same day, he destroyed it. Having emerged during the height of Minimalism and Conceptual art, the Today series appropriated the traditional canvas medium to blur the boundaries between painting, sculpture, installation art and performance. Accompanying each painting is a bespoke hand-made cardboard box, lined with an excerpt from a local newspaper, and fabricated to fit the dimensions of its accompanying work. While the canvas itself becomes a powerful signifier for the continuity of time in the face of one’s one temporal limitations, the addition of the box and newspaper clipping reinforces a sense of the autobiographical in Kawara’s practice.

Kawara's inclusion of the newspaper functions as an anchor that ties the existential integrity of the date to its temporal reality in the phenomenological world. Juxtaposed against the stark impersonality of the painted date, each newspaper clipping incites an infinite number of personal associations and emotive connections. As such, the newspaper grounds the Today series within our world of continual flux, acting as a temporal gauge of local and world events in the on-going, daily reality of unerring and unstoppable time. As curator René 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” (René Denizot, On Kawara, London 2002, p. 114).

Kawara meticulously followed the same ritual when creating these works. The artist, who always remained consistent in his method of production, applied four coats of acrylic paint to the canvas ground – canvases that ranged in size from 20.5 by 25.4 centimetres to 155 by 226 centimetres. Repeating the same technique, subject, and colour variations over many decades, the quasi-automation of Kawara’s meditative painting ritual is reminiscent of artists such as Roman Opalka, who equally strived for an artistic expression of time made visible via its painterly process. Addressing each day as its own entity within the unerring passage of time, the Today series posit the calendar as a human construct qualified only by cultural context and personal experience.