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On Kawara: Silence

January 26, 2015

Today the time passes faster than ever before, while geographical distances become irrelevant due to technological progresses. As we start asking ourselves whether we are aware of time and space that determine our being, we might recall the work of one of the pioneers of conceptual art – On Kawara. This Japanese artist moved the boundaries of contemporary art back in the 1960s, being a part of a silent revolution in arts that reflected the turbulent and revolutionary movements of that time. Isn’t the present uncertainty produced by financial and political crisis the moment when we should pose the same questions as Kawara did decades ago? Guggenheim Museum organizes the first complete exhibition of the work of On Kawara, going back to the 1963 and tracing its development until the day when the famous artist passed away.

On Kawara, I Read, 1966–95, Clothbound loose-leaf binders with plastic sleeves and inserted printed matter, Eighteen volumes. Inserts: Newspaper pasted on paper with ink additions. Front-page inserts: Newspaper with ink additions. Collection of the artist
On Kawara, I Read, 1966–95, Clothbound loose-leaf binders with plastic sleeves and inserted printed matter, Eighteen volumes. Inserts: Newspaper pasted on paper with ink additions. Front-page inserts: Newspaper with ink additions.Collection of the artist

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

On Kawara didn’t speak a lot about his art. Yet we can comprehend the logic behind his concepts by observing the material products of artist’s practices. The endeavors he became famous for were questioning the idea of time and how a human understands it. Probably the most notable example of these thoughts is the paintings from the Today series (date paintings). The date representing the day of the creation of painting were put on simple background, often accompanied with the clippings from newspapers published on that very day. Based on the language and the way the date is drawn or on the daily press sample attached to the date, it is possible to learn the location where Kawara was when he created the painting. On Kawara made an enormous amount of these paintings, and he worked on this huge series for some seven decades. Many artists were inspired by the relations between past, present and future, but within conceptual art, Kawara still is a major influence.

On Kawara, Telegram to Sol LeWitt, February 5, 1970, From I Am Still Alive, 1970–2000, LeWitt Collection, Chester, Connecticut
On Kawara, Telegram to Sol LeWitt, February 5, 1970, From I Am Still Alive, 1970–2000, LeWitt Collection, Chester, Connecticut

On Kawara – The Traveler

Kawara was a passionate traveler. He lived in Tokyo, Mexico City, Paris, New York, and he travelled a lot. Being interested in the geographical context in which an artist creates, Kawara based his works on the concept of the positionality in space. He used to send postcards and telegrams from all over the world to his friends, usually fellow artists. Their content is completely irrelevant in his concept – what is important are the addresses and the dates. This is how his famous I am still alive series (containing telegrams) and the I got up series (with postcards) were made. Together with the Today series, these paintings represent the core of Kawara’s oeuvre, since they are a product of the principal concepts he was working on. The artistic product itself is not so relevant; it is the context in which they were created. No matter what material or technique is used, it is about the specific time in history and the particular political or cultural context that determines the artist’s creation. These questions are central to Kawara’s work since they are dealing with human consciousness – the reflection of human being on his or her position in the world.

Left: On Kawara, APR – 1 1969, From I Got Up, 1968–79, Stamped ink on postcard. MTM Collection, Japan / Right: On Kawara, JAN. 4, 1966, “New York’s traffic strike.”, New York From Today, 1966–2013, Acrylic on canvas. Private collection, Photo: Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London
Left: On Kawara, APR – 1 1969, From I Got Up, 1968–79, Stamped ink on postcard. MTM Collection, Japan / Right: On Kawara, JAN. 4, 1966, “New York’s traffic strike.”, New York From Today, 1966–2013, Acrylic on canvas. Private collection, Photo: Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

Kawara at Guggenheim

On Kawara is certainly one of the most famous Japanese contemporary artists. He had exhibitions in the most recognized galleries in the world. Guggenheim Museum is organizing a show with all the works Kawara is famous for. The visitors will have a chance to participate in a monumental work One million years, by reading the dates stretching one million years into the past and another million into the future, a form of performance already conducted in numerous places before. On Kawara died in 2014, and one year later Guggenheim is paying a tribute to this great artist with this grandiose exhibition. Participate in this historic exhibition, entitled On Kawara – Silence, at Guggenheim Museum in New York, from February 6th till May 3rd.

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On Kawara, One Million Years, 1993, Live Reading: One Million Years, David Zwirner, New York, January 14–February 14, 2009 Photo: Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London
On Kawara, One Million Years, 1993, Live Reading: One Million Years, David Zwirner, New York, January 14–February 14, 2009Photo: Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London
On Kawara, Paris–New York Drawing no. 144, 1964, Graphite and colored pencil on paper, perforated top edge. Collection of the artist, Photo: Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London
On Kawara, Paris–New York Drawing no. 144, 1964, Graphite and colored pencil on paper, perforated top edge. Collection of the artist, Photo: Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London
On Kawara, Title, 1965, Acrylic on canvas, triptych. National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., Patrons’ Permanent Fund
On Kawara, Title, 1965, Acrylic on canvas, triptych. National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., Patrons’ Permanent Fund
Left: On Kawara, DEC. 29, 1977, “Thursday.” New York, From Today, 1966–2013, Acrylic on canvas. Pictured with artist-made cardboard storage boxes.. Private collection. Photo: Courtesy David Zwirner, New York, London / Right:On Kawara, MAY 20, 1981, “Wednesday.” New York, From Today, 1966–2013, Acrylic on canvas. Pictured with artist-made cardboard storage boxes. Private collection. Photo: Courtesy David Zwirner, New York,London
Left: On Kawara, DEC. 29, 1977, “Thursday.” New York, From Today, 1966–2013,Acrylic on canvas. Pictured with artist-made cardboard storage boxes.. Private collection. Photo: Courtesy David Zwirner, New York, London / Right:On Kawara, MAY 20, 1981, “Wednesday.” New York, From Today, 1966–2013, Acrylic on canvas. Pictured with artist-made cardboard storage boxes. Private collection. Photo: Courtesy David Zwirner, New York,London

All images courtesy of Guggenheim Museum.

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