On Kawara

On Kawara: One Thousand Days One Million Years

January 1, 1993 - December 31, 1993

<p>Photo credit: Cathy Carver.</p>

Photo credit: Cathy Carver.




One Thousand Days One Million Years is a year long installation by On Kawara devised specifically for Dia Center for the Arts. It responds temporally and spatially to the site, in that exhibitions at Dia typically last for the period of one year, and that Dia is located in Manhattan. Thus every month through the 1993 calendar year a different group of paintings from the Today Series, begun in 1966, will be presented.1 In addition, One Million Years (Past), a monumental ten-volume epic will be exhibited continuously throughout the year in an adjacent space, whilst One Million Years (Future) will be realised for the first time as a sound piece.

Kawara's relation to this New York site is manifest principally in two decisions. Notwithstanding the fact that he has travelled extensively throughout his career, painting in over ninety cities on five continents, Kawara has executed more than half the total corpus of this series, including the very first picture made on January 4, 1966, in Manhattan. All the paintings selected for exhibition at Dia were made in New York City where he has been intermittently resident since the early sixties. The site for this exhibition was adapted to reflect this Japanese-born artist's understanding of the relationship between interior and exterior spaces typical in this metropolis; namely that the two are clearly separate and discrete. Consequently all the windows on this floor have been blocked, rendering the room an autonomous self-sufficient entity.

Over the past quarter century Kawara has adopted a variety of formats for his various on-going series of works including, amongst others, postcards, telegrams and street plans as well as paintings. Whilst such continuing series as I Met, I Went, and I Read, tabulate in the form of simple lists the contingencies of his daily experience, others, notably the postcards I Got Up, two of which have been sent each day for years to different recipients introduce by means of their medium a note of playfulness and informality slyly masking the metaphysical import of their messages.

The paintings of the Today Series address his abiding existential concerns in somewhat different terms. Each work must be completed on the day whose date it bears on its surface. Moreover, each date is recorded in the language and according to the grammatical conventions of the country in which the painting was executed. Conforming to one of eight sizes standardised early in the course of this project, each painting is painstakingly executed by hand. The white letters and numerals whose somewhat idiosyncratic typeface was gradually regularised by the artist during the first months of the series are painted on a monochrome ground. When not on view each painting is housed in a handmade cardboard box which also contains a clipping from a local newspaper from the city in which the artist was resident on that date. Mostly, the title for a work is derived from either a headline or a caption found on the accompanying newspaper clipping. At once neutralised and objective, arbitrary and idiosyncratic, each singular work establishes a dialectic between the individual and the collective, the personal and the impersonal, set in relation to the particularities of an historical context, the socio-cultural moment registered in the press reportage.

By choosing to pair this body of work with One Million Years (Past) and One Million Years (Future), dedicated respectively to the first and the last survivor, Kawara speaks at once to the creation of chronological time, to duration, and to history, all anthropomorphic concepts which by means of the integer of a day and the larger unit of a year provide the principal and most fundamental terms in which existence is measured.

In reviewing the changing installations over the course of this exhibition the visitor will necessarily return on different days, to encounter the recordings of yet other days, and to hear intoned the names of years in a future that is otherwise unlikely to be directly experienced. If the transience of existence is one of the principal subjects in Kawara's aesthetic the relentlessness of time's passage is equally another. Thus whilst revising one of the principal themes of (western) art, the momento mori, Kawara at the same time invokes through the rectitude and resilience of his activity a stance at once paradoxically existential in its hyper-acuity and oriental in its equanimity. In this desire to conflate eastern and western modes of being, the individual and the collective, the anonymous and the particular, and the local and the international, is expressed Kawara's ambition to be "a citizen of the world".2


1. Models depicting the preceeding installations will be on view in an adjacent room. In months 5,6,7, and 9 vitrines containing paintings together with their boxes and newsclippings will be included in the space.

2. Kawara welcomes this designation, first used by José Librero Stals, "No-Man's-Land", Tierra de nadie, Hospital Real, Granada, 1992, p.116.

Lynne Cooke

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