On Kawara (1933-2014)

The Japanese conceptual artist On Kawara died in New York City at the age of 81, it was learned on Jul 10.

Born in 1933 in Kariya, Aichi Prefecture, Kawara began his career as a member of Tokyo’s postwar avant-garde art scene, where he exhibited at the legendary Takemiya Gallery and was known for highly detailed Surrealist drawings with socially critical undertones, such as the Bathroom series and the multipart work Events in a Warehouse. In 1959 Kawara left Japan for Mexico and then Europe before settling in New York in 1965. On January 4, 1966, he began his “Date Paintings,” each completed in the span of one day and depicting that day’s date in simple white lettering on a colored ground. In 1968 he began the series “I Got Up,” for which he sent postcards to friends and colleagues, with information about the time he woke up on that particular day stamped onto the postcard. This was followed in the 1970s by “I Am Still Alive,” telegrams communicating the titular phrase to their recipients. Along similar lines, Kawara developed the projects One Million Years [Past] (1969) and One Million Years [Future] (1981), ledgers in which are inscribed numbers corresponding to the span of one million years, from 998,031 BC to 1969 AD in the former and from 1996 to 1,001,995 AD in the latter. These books have in turn served as material for participatory public readings, some of which have been recorded and turned into compact discs. It is estimated that a recording of both volumes would require 2,700 compact discs, and take 100 years to complete.

Works by On Kawara, including Events in a Warehouse and a group of “Date Paintings,” are currently on view in the collection display of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, “There’s Something Happening Here II: 1923, 1945, and then,” through Aug 24. A retrospective, “On Kawara – Silence,” is planned to open in February 2015 at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

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