GAME ON (24)



It is August 10, 2023. The 'I GOT UP', 'I WENT' and 'I MET' for 1975 were published by Tama Art University about a week ago and I've been perusing, summarising, cross-referencing and absorbing it all since. For the last couple of days I've had an essay gradually forming in my mind, and now I feel I've done enough research to write it. Provisional title: 'How On Kawara managed to acquire a chunk of Manhattan real estate'. So, dear reader, that's three titles you've got to choose from. Might there be more? Stay tuned.

1975 was the year that Nobu Fukui was referring to when he wrote to me: 'I helped to organise a three-building co-op on Greene St. and urged all my friends to find, borrow or steal $15,000 to buy a great loft. On and Hiroko, Aoki and O'Connor, and other friends bought in. I bought the 2nd floor at 140 Greene St. and On and Hiroko bought the 6th floor in the building.'

This is confirmed by oral interviews with Aoki (as he is known) and O'Connor (Teresa) that can be found online. Though Aoki mentions that it was Peter Gee, an Englishman, who set up the co-operative. Aoki paid $18,000, about a year's salary (that would be Teresa's income, she being a professor of English, he being, by his own account, a 'hippy'), for a massive floor at the top of 132 Greene Street. He and Teresa didn't even need to take out a mortgage. I expect that property would be worth about 18 million dollars now, though that is purely a guess. He and Teresa still live there. Hiroko still lives on the sixth floor at 140 Greene Street with members of her family. Nobu had to sell his second floor flat at 140 Greene Street when he and Miyuki divorced in 1979, a double loss that must have hit him hard.

The following image shows 130 Greene Street, centre right, immediately to the right of the black, steel pole, a narrow building; and, to the left of the pole, the block that contains 132 to 140 Greene Street, the door to 132 being in the centre of the image and numbered on a glass pane above the door. That's the three blocks that were in the co-op (130, 132 and 140), though for our purposes it's the 132 and 140 Greene Street addresses that matter.


The following shot is from the other, northern end of the same 132-140 block. You can see the '140' marked on a pane of glass above the front door. It has to be emphasised that these Street View Google images are from the last decade, by which time the value of all SoHo properties had shot up. The lofts have been gentrified, hugely so, and many of the original artist owners have been replaced by Wall Street bankers. But, as I say, the Aoki-O'Connors are still there, and so are the Kawaharas.


However, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Nobu was very much involved in the 1975 property transaction. On met him a few times in the first three months of the year, usually at 53 Greene Street, where Nobu already rented a loft studio, though On was seeing slightly more of Aoki and Soroku at this time. Then, in mid-April, several significant things happened. Firstly, On didn't meet Hiroko for ten days in a row beginning on April 14. The period contains two blank 'I MET' lists which may be unique, because On and Hiroko were always in each other's company when On was in New York. They were partners, after all. And when On travelled to Japan in 1970 and then Sweden in 1972 without her, it was in a sociable context whereby he was never without company. Perhaps, on this occasion, Hiroko was visiting a sick friend out of town. Perhaps they were taking a break from each other. I don't know.

On April 15, On met Nobu and the aforementioned Peter Gee. I reproduce the 'I MET' below, in part because Hiroko's name is not on it.

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Below is a detail from the same day's 'I WENT'. All On did was travel south by subway from his flat on East 22nd Street, then enter 140 Greene Street, and at some stage take a walk around the block. Well, not quite. It was a double block he walked around, so he wasn't inspecting the back of the building.

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Nobu's place at 53 Greene Street is on the other side of the street, two blocks up from Canal Street at the bottom of the map. So On met Nobu and Peter Gee at 140 Greene Street, not at his own home. Is this the day that On Kawara signed the papers buying the sixth floor of that building? I have to say that making this deal must have seemed like a no-brainer. On's work was beginning to sell for decent sums of money. But more than that: the twin towers had just gone up to the south of SoHo, and the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building were not much further off to the north. SoHo itself was a run down area with factories, some of them empty. But this was bound to change, and the authorities were trying to shape the forthcoming development by stipulating that only artists could buy these properties. Perfect for On, Nobu and Aoki. I wonder why Soroku didn't invest in a loft. He already had children, and perhaps simply couldn't afford it. Also, he had stopped practising as an artist in 1970 and so perhaps felt that he didn't qualify.

A few days later, April 21, On met only one person and that was René Block. Now it was at this gallerist's invitation that On would spend a year in Berlin from March 1976, so On wouldn't need New York accommodation for a full year. Did this make any difference to his calculations re 140 Greene Street? Surely not. The three Greene Street properties would only gradually be occupied. Apparently, in 1975, Aoki and Teresa were the first of 18 purchasers to move into their co-op loft at 132 Greene Street because (as Aoki states in his 2016 oral interview) his existing loft at 97 Crosby Street was going up to a monthly rent of 300 dollars, a freezing cold loft that had cost just 100 dollars in 1970.

Aoki describes these Greene Street properties as being enormous. So the artists would basically use the vast majority of the space as their studio, and they would instal a small kitchen, bedroom and a washroom in one corner of the floor. Teresa, in her oral interview, emphasises how primitive it was. The toilet facilities were basic. The sound proofing was minimal. They shared the space with rats and moths. And the windows at the back had no glass in them, though metal shuttering kept out the worst of the elements. Teresa's father was in the construction business, and his advice when he came along to view 132 Greene Street was an unequivocal: "Don't do it." But Aoki had all the skills needed to build partition walls, and to handle basic electrics and plumbing, so they did take the plunge. Though professionals had to sign off the work in order to get a Certificate of Occupation from the local authorities.

Hiroko was back in the picture on April 25. Nobu and Aoki were met that day also, and the key part of the 'I WENT' map looks like this:

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

This time On went into two addresses on Greene Street, presumably numbers 140 and 132. Presumably too On was showing Hiroko what they had just bought, or were about to buy. And presumably Nobu and Aoki were talking through the whole co-op thing and their places in it. How great the lofts would look after a couple of years' work! Those urinal stalls that the factory workers had used could soon be got rid of! When On and Hiroko had kids they would be able to play tennis or baseball in the main room of the loft, never mind ping-pong. What's not to like? On may have been picturing the large loft he'd had in 1966 which he'd filled so gloriously with the year's Date Paintings. All 241 of them. Hiroko's vision may have been different, with kids joyfully playing together.

This conversation, these imaginings, or something like them, may have continued in the café or bar that, on first glance, looks like it is on West Broadway in the map above, but is actually on the road between Greene Street and West Broadway, namely Wooster Street. It crops up quite a lot on the 'I WENT' maps of 1975 and I don't think it's where any of On's acquaintances lived, hence my café/bar assumption.

On April 28, On met René Block for the second time, and this time Hiroko was around. So it looks as if Hiroko was kept in the loop. After all, she would be going with On to Berlin for the year-long residency. Also, On made a single visit to 140 Greene Street in May and a single one in June. On both days he 'met' Nobu, Hiroko and Kasper König. It makes sense that Kasper was being kept in the loop as well. He would continue to be an essential component of On's progress in the art world. On and Kasper would want to discuss how On's work would evolve in this new studio. I doubt if Kasper would be able to see any down-side. As long as the purchase of the loft didn't interfere with On going to Berlin for a year, a move which would help On Kawara integrate into the German and European art scene.


I said I'd been looking at the year's 'I GOT UP' material. In particular, I took a sheet of graph paper and made a coded description of every postcard that On included from 1975 in his 2008 publication 'I GOT UP', which covers the years 1968 to 1979.

This includes 137 blank postcards. In other words, postcards that On Kawara - with the assistance of the publisher, Michelle Didier - reconstructed the message side of, and left the picture side blank. That is, sequences of cards to Barbara Reise (28 cards), Judy de Voss (16), Anna Novelli (16), Heinz Nigg (35), Frank Donegan (21) and Rolf Preisig (21). Presumably the originals of these cards weren't available to On and Michelle in 2008, either because they'd never been kept, or they had been kept but the receiver was unable or unwilling to make them available to be reproduced. That is all perfectly understandable, but I don't think On would have needed to use so many of them. For instance, why break into the glorious, 104-long sequence of postcards sent to fellow artist Kazuo Okazaki in Tokyo from August 21 to December 2, in order to show reconstructions of the identical 'I GOT UP' message sent to Frank Donegan for 20 days in October? One or two perhaps, to show that Frank Donegan was a recipient. But 20 picture-less cards? Anyway, such unanswerable questions are not central to my present concerns.

The Twin Towers, visible on the Manhattan skyline from 1971, though still under construction until 1973, were by 1975 integrated into the sequence of NewYork 'I GOT UP' cards. They appear on a postcard for the first time on March 26, 1973, on On's return to New York from the Stockholm residency via west Africa. But I guess it took the postcard-makers a while to catch up with the importance of their looming presence. The motif features in the postcard of the three April days preceding Hiroko's first day of non-appearance on the 'I MET' list, for April 14, 1975. Here are two of those three:

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Of course, it is impossible to see these Twin Towers through 2023 eyes in the same way as On Kawara saw them in 1975, thanks to the horrific event that happened roughly halfway between 1975 and the present. But let's try and take ourselves back to those earlier times, when the American Dream would have still seemed fresh.

002bqlk7mrlsaglm8b6s7tfcq_thumb_f1a9.spwupzcyq002bum6okbfurxow_thumb_f1aa Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Perhaps On liked to think of the Twin Towers as himself and Hiroko. They were securely planted in New York and they were inseparable (though having said that, as well as the 10-day break in April, they were apart for a full month from June 10, 1975, to July 11, 1975. In that period there were seven blank 'I MET' sheets). On was doing well in his art career, essentially because his ideas were so original and they were being manifested in the most rigorous and relentless way. And Hiroko was supporting him every step (more or less) of the way. Indeed her support was a necessary part of his resource set. Do I know that for a fact? No, it's a supposition, but it is surely so.

The Twin Tower postcards bring to mind On's point made to a German writer (Wolfgang Max Faust) that Western thinking was all about the number '1' while 'complements' pervaded all Japanese thought. The implication would be that the Empire State Building might have impressed a Westerner, but the Japanese preferred the Twin Towers.

omoaoldbrnma0srrmdhddq_thumb_f1ab.e45hkj9yraqqds4fs5ffyq_thumb_f1ac Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

So let's persist with the metaphor. On Kawara as one tower. His Japanese friends, primarily Nobu, Aoki and Soroku (but really there were about thirty, even fifty, of them, mostly artists), as the second tower, supporting the first.

But let's not forget Kasper König and family. On and Hiroko as one tower, the four members of the König household (one of them called Hiroko) as the other. On Kawara needed a Western champion of his work in order to make progress in the Western art world. Through Kasper, On Kawara got to know Pontus Hulten, Johannes Gachnang, Konrad Fischer and Angela Westwater. Actually, On made a visit to 140 (but see later in this essay) Greene Street on October 8, and the people he met that day included no less than Kasper König, Konrad Fischer and Angela Westwater. He wanted these people in particular to see where he would be making Date Paintings in the future. And if Nicholas Logsdail had been in New York at the time he would have been shown around 140 Greene Street as well. Still, he got the next best thing, Twin Tower postcards, two of them:

jnuqlbt0s0025k00254lgehzi9ba_thumb_f1b8.gafolnv9svs2azfpfshqva_thumb_f1b9 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Perhaps On liked to think of the Twin Towers as 140 and 132 Greene Street. Does that make sense? It puts a lot of emphasis on his friendship with Aoki, so let's just see how things panned out in 1975. On continued to meet Nobu, Aoki and Soroku throughout the year. Things were pretty quiet in terms of 140 Greene Street (no more than one visit a month, sometimes none at all) until December. But there were visits to the new property on December 9, 12 and 16. Let's take a close look at them. Basically, on the 9th, On (and Hiroko?) took the subway under Broadway, got out of the train and returned to street level, and made a visit to 140 Greene Street and the bar/café on Wooster Street.

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

The people met on the 9th were as follows:

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Nobu and his wife and child may already have made the move from 53 to 140 Greene Street by this time, accounting for the three Fukuis. I heard Teresa O'Connor mention that K.B. Hwang, the respected printer, had bought the loft underneath On and Hiroko, so he also would have been an early occupant of 140 Greene Street. Tetsu Sueyoshi was staying with the Kawaras (he was met on each of the first 12 days of the month). And Tatsuo Kondo was the writer who would provide regular reports of the goings-on amongst Japanese artists for an art magazine in Tokyo, occasionally mentioning On Kawara and stating at one point that Nobu Fukui was his, Tatsuo's, closest friend.

In other words, I know all about what happened to On Kawara on December 9, 1975. I know everything and I know nothing. (It wasn't a Date Painting day.)

The second visit to 140 Greene Street was on December 12. By the way, notice that the World Trade Centre site is marked towards the bottom of the pro forma map, just left of centre. That's where the Twin Towers were standing by this time, so the pro forma map was out of date. I will keep an eye open for On updating it. On went into the Wooster Street café /bar and he went into 140 Greene Street. He also visited another Greene Street site, though it was too far south to be number 132, more like 120.

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Below is the 'I MET' list for December 12. The fact that Nobu and his daughter, Miki, are on it, is more evidence that the Fukuis had moved from 53 to 140 Greene Street by this time. Katsuyoshi Goto and Seiji Kunishima were both ambitious and successful sculptors and they may have been socialising with both On Kawara and Nobu Fukui.

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

On to December 16, and the third trip to 140 Green Street. To begin with this puzzled me. The two red marks suggest going in to both 140 and 132 Greene Street. But, as you'll soon see, Aoki wasn't on the 'I MET' list for this day. My provisional conclusion was that On may have been visiting another of the new owner-occupiers of 132 Greene Street.

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

However, the key name on the day's 'I MET' list is Angela Westwater. Indeed, this led me to a revelation of sorts, which I have now worked through. Angela Westwater, Konrad Fischer and Gian Enzo Sperone opened an art gallery in 1975 at none other than 142 Greene Street. (Apparently there were about 80 galleries in SoHo at the time, it was fast becoming hip.) So on this occasion, On was indeed visiting 140 Greene Street, where he bumped into Nobu, but also 142 Greene Street, to talk with Angela Westwater and, I assume, her important collector, Sylvio Perlstein.

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Within a week, On was sending Sylvio Perlstein 'I GOT UP' cards, as you can see from below. Quite handy to have a top-notch new gallery right next to where you've bought a studio. Perhaps that's what the twin towers represent: 140 and 142 Greene Street.

z9ii7ao4tqe6xiq2wc3gsq_thumb_f1bb.w0p0sshktue3y8i40hqk0g_thumb_f1bc Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Twin Towers. Where On Kawara would be making Dates; alongside where he would be showing Dates. Gallery and studio. Studio and gallery. A vision that would remain viable for twenty years, which is a long time. But nor thirty years, other things had intervened by then.

Taking another pass through the I MET lists, I noticed that On Kawara met Angela Westwater, Konrad Fischer, Kasper König and Gian Enzo Sperone on October 8. The three owners of the new gallery. Plus Kasper König, who was the instigator behind On Kawara's rise in the art world. Plus various artists and friends

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

And so I realised that this October day On went to what I had taken to be 140 Greene Street but was clearly 142 Greene Street.

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

I now know that the gallery had opened in September and that the inaugural show had been of Carl Andre's work, open from October 4 to November 1. That's the New York artist that 'didn't get' On Kawara's work according to Nobu Fukui. On may or may not have 'got' Carl Andre's work, but I expect he would have been able to negotiate his way around the new space with the gallery owners. According to Angela Westwater, On Kawara didn't like to talk about his own work, preferring silence on the matter, but she suggests that On was comfortable socially and had a quiet sense of humour. It is especially significant that Konrad Fischer was one of the directors, because he was already intent on championing Richard Long and On Kawara in his Dusseldorf gallery, one or the other getting a show every year for over a decade.

Oh yes, and there was a similar visit to 142 (not 140) Greene Street on November 13, with Konrad Fischer and Angela Westwater being met on that day. According to Angela Westwater, in an interview with Larkin Erdmann in 2018: 'We met in the early 70s thanks to Konrad Fischer with whom I opened the gallery in New York in September 1975 along with Gian Enzo Sperone. Kasper König, Konrad and I visited On Kawara November 13, 1975 at his apartment, 405 East 13th Street. These encounters in 1975 are also recorded in On Kawara's project I MET.' This is helpful, though not entirely accurate, as the I MET for November 13 shows that On was living at 24 East 22nd Street and that he did not go near East 13th Street that day, having vacated that flat a few years earlier.

Interesting too, that Angela Westwater gifted the 'I GOT UP' Postcards she would receive in 1977 to a New York Museum (MOMA) in1991, by which time Konrad Fischer had left the partnership. That happened in 1982. Sperone Westwater continued to represent On Kawara in New York into the 1990s, their last show of his work, their sixth, being 'One Million Years (Future)' in 1993. Sometime after that, the artist transferred to David Zwirner in New York, whose first show of On Kawara was in 1999. Artists are usually very discreet about their relationship with dealers, past and present, but I think it can be deduced that Konrad Fischer, who died in 1996, had been On's champion at Fischer Sperone Westwater. Though, of course, all the directors would have had to buy into the kind of support that any artist that they represent requires.

Now to mention something that surprises me. First let me set the scene. In September of 1975, during a road-trip to the Great Lakes, On took a lift up to the viewing platform of the highest building in Cleveland, Ohio, to take in the view of the city and Lake Erie. More scene-setting: in May 1977 On made it to the top of the highest building in Paris, Montparnasse Tower, to enjoy a view that would have included the newly built Pompidou Centre where his own incredible solo show was at that time installed. So On liked an overview.

Now in December 1975, the 107th floor of the South Tower in Manhattan was opened to the public as an indoor viewing platform, and you could also enjoy the view from atop the 110th floor. From there you could see for 50 miles on a clear day. Certainly, you would have had an excellent view of New York. Yet a study of the 'I WENT' maps suggest that On Kawara did not go near the World Trade Centre site in the month. I suppose he may have left off a visit until January of 1976, and I'll be checking that out as soon as Tama Art University put the information online. I can hardly get away with the Twin Towers as being metaphors for 132 and 140 Greene Street, or 140 and 142 Greene Street, if it turns out that On and Hiroko never took the opportunity to look at their property - and the neighbouring properties - from such a viewpoint.

Now to end with another thing that surprises me. Something that really surprises me. When On was visiting 142 Greene Street on those days in October and November, probably the latter, it would seem that he was being offered a solo show, his first in New York. And that solo show was open to the public from March 6 to 27, 1976. Not only did On Kawara not attend the opening, as was his habit, he didn't see the show at all. He was based in Berlin at the time. He and Hiroko did return to Berlin for a couple of months, but not until April 22, 1976. I suppose On did not want to have to chat with his friends or the general public about the Date Paintings. Let them see the Dates in the new gallery by all means, but the artist did not wish to discuss what they were looking at. Let them make their own minds up.

So what did visitors to Fischer Sperone Westwater in March of 1976 see? There are two photos of the installation included in the book, On Kawara continuity/discontinuity 1963-1979. Here is one of them:

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation, and with the forbearance, I hope, of Sperone Westwater.

It may be that the line of consecutive dates goes on outside the boundaries of the photograph, but I don't think it does. On Kawara painted the Date on each day from AUG. 11 to AUG. 21, while the Dates in the above photo just go from AUG.11 to AUG. 16, 1975. Nothing controversial there, it became On's custom when dealing with élite, commercial galleries in London, Dusseldorf, New York, Paris and so on, to choose Dates from the year preceding the year of the exhibition in question.

But the other photo documenting the show is the one below. The August pictures, shown above, are size B and these three are size D:

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation, and with the forbearance, I hope, of Sperone Westwater.

Dear reader, can you spot what's strange about this set up? Yes, the paintings are not in date order. Now On Kawara invariably displayed his Dates in chronological order. He did not want to distract from their serious conceptual meaning: life is lived one day at a time. Dates come in order. If you are lucky enough to have the privilege of living through a day, there is nothing more to be said. If you are lucky enough to then live another day, then the consciousness of that is what the wise man or woman focuses on. The miracle of consciousness itself. There is no Back to the Future nonsense! To put the December Date at the beginning of the row is tampering with the fabric of time. Or at least that's how it feels to me. That's how I strongly suspect it would have felt to On Kawara.

Now Konrad Fischer was used to displaying On's Date paintings in Dusseldorf, but he may not have been in New York in March 1976. Angela Westwater was the director who was based in Manhattan, so I'm surmising that It was her decision to place the Dates on the wall in this order, thus creating a whole lot of noise in the viewer's mind that was not the intention of the artist. What do I mean by noise? Basically, it puts in the viewer's mind that there is a reason that the December date has been put before the November dates, and that reason can usefully be thought about. For instance, I've now looked up the three days as manifested in the self-observation series. So on December 11, a postcard went to Rolf Preisig, Swiss gallerist. On's getting up time, 10.19A.M. While on November 27, a card went to Kazuo Okazaki, artist based in Tokyo; On's getting up time, 10.55A.M. And on November 30, a card was sent to Nicholas Logsdail, London gallerist; On's getting up time, 12.03 P.M. So the paintings are in order of getting up time, one might conclude. Which is a distracting nonsense.

Or how about this? On December 11, On met 3 people. On Nov 27, On met three people. And on November 30, On met three people. Almost the same people. Four people altogether, with two of them being husband and wife: Noriko and Tetsu Sueyoshi.


Hiroko…Hiroko…. Soroku
Noriko…Tetsu….. Hiroko
Tetsu….Soroku... Tetsu

Perhaps On was trying to say something about his relationship with these particular individuals. (Again, I really don't think so.)

Or how about this? On December 11, On dropped in to 142 Greene Street. On November 27 and November 30, he didn't go near the gallery. Maybe on December 11 he came to the gallery and decided where the day's Date would hang and the rest of the show would have to work around it. You see how one can make false patterns? You see how distracting that is from the simplicity of existence? Of spending the irreplaceable day thinking about just that, in other words Date Painting?

Or am I making too much of this? There is the photo that was taken in the studio in Stockholm where the dates, all from January 1973, are stood up on the floor in a random order. However, this photograph was informal, principally taken to show the clutter on the artist's desk in the foreground of the image. So I think it can be discounted.

It may be that Angela Westwater would be able to throw light on this matter. Although it was On Kawara's painting, it was appearing in her gallery, so she had the right to hang it in a way that appealed to her commercial instincts. Maybe Sylvio Perlstein bowled along and insisted that he would buy a painting if the December date be placed at the beginning of the row of three, pushing both the other pictures one place along. Ha-ha. (That's Sylvio laughing, not me.)

I will send Angela the link to this essay and await a response to the question 'why were the three size 'D' Date Paintings hung as they were for the 1976 show of On Kawara?'. I am asking a terribly specific question about a very long time ago, so I can't really expect an answer. But it's also rather an important question, in my opinion. So we'll see.

AUG. 13, 2023