Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction


On Kawara
1933 - 2014
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.
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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

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.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction