On Kawara spent the beginning of his career creating compositions one could call graphic, figurative and inspired by surrealist aesthetics, but shifted to a biographical work reflecting on time and space in the 1960s. After living Japan for New York in 1959, where he developed a strong interest for the relationship between language and plastic materiality, it took On Kawara a couple of years to lay down the foundations of what made his fame: the Date Paintings.
From the very first painting of this series, started on January 4, 1966 and continued up until his death, On Kawara elaborated a rigorous protocol he obsessively followed for nearly 50 years: a dark monochromatic background in the center of which was written the immaculate white date of the creation of the work in the official language of the country he was in. Each canvas would come in a cardboard box with a newspaper clip stating the date and place of its creation.
Essential to understanding On Kawara's work, the choice of this repetitive and almost ritualized approach and process reflects a unique ambition in the history of art: establishing an objective relationship to the world through personal experience.
The two works presented here, 21.11.1991 and 21.11.1991, were made on the same day. The artist rigorously hand-painted them and applied multiple layers of white and black color on the surface to erase all traces of paintbrushes from the compositions. In this tedious project, the tiny variations in details and the visual impact of the accumulated layers is what parts the works from a mere mechanical, self-destructive and imperceptible countdown. Through this process, On Kawara created a monumental and universal work that unfolds over time but can only be grasped through fragments, such as 21.11.1991 and 21.11.1991.
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