GAME ON (37)




I'm now going to bring together a Date Painting of On Kawara with one of Jospeh Beuys's last installations. I think this is going to bring me a huge amount of pleasure and no little insight. For you too, I hope, dear reader. But for that to happen I will have to set out the scene very carefully.

So come with me to the Anthony d'Offay Gallery just off Oxford Street in central London. My diary tells me I visited the show on Saturday, October 19, 1985. This would be one of those handful of exhibitions that made an enormous impact on me. I was still working as a chartered accountant at the time. Indeed I've almost forgotten this show, it's so long ago and from another lifetime, as it were. I've said on another page on this site that seeing the On Kawara exhibition of four Date Paintings and a Million Years installation at the Lisson Gallery in the summer of 1991, was my most profoundly moving gallery experience. But this one was up there too. The unforgettable - if somehow forgotten about - will be remembered again!

Why am I remembering it now? Because I've been revising the 1972 chapter in the top section of the menu, and I've come to realise that when On Kawara went to Moderna Museet in Stockholm for a two-month residency, he was following in Joseph Beuys's footsteps. Beuys had a solo show there in 1971; On Kawara was in residence in 1972. In the literature, On Kawara and Joseph Beuys are rarely linked, and never substantially. Yet as someone who knew both has written to me: 'They both shared a deep commitment to conceptual art, although On didn't like to be associated with the term. Their artistic styles and subjects were very different, but they both left an indelible mark on the art world. Kawara's meticulous "date paintings" and Beuys' eclectic mix of performance, sculpture and activism reflect their shared commitment to exploring personal narratives and existential questions. Both artists used their work as a platform for social commentary, though Beuys tended towards overt political activism, while Kawara often delved into abstract and philosophical realms.'

I am going to attempt to further link the artists in this text as they had, from the above perspectives and more, so much in common. But why didn't they meet? And, just as intriguingly, why did they not talk in public about each other's work? These are related mysteries that I would like to solve. Jonathan Watkins, who also knew On well, has told me: 'I have no memory of On mentioning Beuys. Beuys always struck me as being very unlike On, encouraging a cult of personality, a bit messianic.' I must bear all these wise words in mind.

OK, we've entered the Anthony d'Offay Gallery. The entrance to the gallery is off the right edge of the following photo. The desk where Anthony d'Offay himself was in attendance on the Saturday of my visit is off the left edge of the photo. But who could resist going through into the room lined with rolls of felt, stacked on top of each other? Plight, the show was called.

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But I didn't go straight in. Anthony must have noticed my immediate interest and he came over to have a word. If he had done that today, in February 2024, I would have asked him how he could have stood being a gallerist in the seventies and eighties and never shown the work of On Kawara. But I would have been smiling as I said it. One out of two isn't bad.

Let's go in, as the pleasantries are over, into the warmth and silence.

unadjustednonraw_thumb_1079e Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the photographer and copyright holder.

I want to linger here for a while, soaking up the ambience. Grey and brown are Beuys's colours. He didn't particularly like being called a visual artist, as smell and touch and sound were all important to him. The felt rolls muffle sound, preventing the noise of the outside world getting in to disturb the gallery visitor's thoughts. And it's pleasingly warm in here. The heat produced by invisible radiators, or previous visitors, is trapped in this space. Yes, let's linger. And while lingering? Let's set out the connections between On Kawara and Joseph Beuys.

I've already mentioned Stockholm. Pontus Hultén was the famous director of Moderna Museet that invited both to his city in 1971 and 1972. He championed each of them in turn, and there is no way he would have been host to On Kawara and not made his admiration of the work and personality of Joseph Beuys known.

Beuys did not visit America until the Vietnam war was finished. On Kawara too greatly disapproved of what America was doing in Vietnam. Many of his Date Paintings are lined with news stories about the Vietnam war, cut from the pages of the New York Times in particular. And many of the subtitles of Date Paintings made from 1966 to 1972 mention Vietnam and the presiding American politicians: Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. In 1974, after the end of the Vietnam war, Beuys flew to Chicago just long enough to stay in a gallery with a coyote for a few days, before flying out of the country again. I don't think he actually put a foot on American soil during this escapade. I Like America and America Likes Me was the name of the piece. But he clearly didn't like or trust America at that stage. As I type that, I'm thinking that On Kawara's 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams could just as easily have read: 'I LIKE AMERICA AND AMERICA LIKES ME'. The two statements share a sense of humour.

Let's linger in this empty, felt roll-lined room for a little longer. The piano and its implications (implinkations?) can wait.

unadjustednonraw_thumb_1079f Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the photographer and copyright holder.

In October 1970, Beuys was one of several international artists invited to a conference in Halifax, Canada, at the Nova Scotia School of Art. Carl Andre, Richard Serra and many others were also there. Beuys emerged as a sort of leader amongst the artists, so friendly and articulate was he, and such a good team player did he come across as. On Kawara was invited to the Nova Scotia School of Art two years later, in 1973, when Kasper König was director of publishing there. So On got to know the place and its history as well. He didn't have much to do with the students though. He sent out 'I GOT UP" cards as usual. And he Date Painted. As usual. Then in 1976, Beuys was invited back to receive an honorary doctorate and give a talk to the students. It was Kasper König who was charged with phoning Beuys, and to ask if he would accept the honour and make the intercontinental journey. He was successful in this endeavour. Kasper then travelled from New York for the event, on May 8, 1976, which was a big success. The blackboard, which Beuys made use of when delivering his talk, was preserved with all its circling and arrowed connections, and became a most popular and valuable asset of the college. Now don't tell me Kasper and On didn't have a good old chat about all this on May 5, just before Kasper flew from New York to Halifax. Or on May 18, when Kasper and On met again on Kasper's return to the Big Apple. By which I mean that Kasper König's name is on Kawara's 'I MET' lists for these two days.

And there's more. From 1971, all through the seventies and eighties, On Kawara was regularly showing at Konrad Fischer's Gallery in Dusseldorf. Now that city was where Joseph Beuys lived from 1961 onwards. In 1961, Beuys was appointed professor of monumental sculpture at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, a post from which he was dismissed once, in 1972, reinstated following student protests, and dismissed again in 1973. After that, his home/base remained in Dusseldorf, though he travelled a lot, and was visiting professor at various institutions. Joseph Beuys famously met Andy Warhol for the first time in Dusseldorf in 1979. A photo taken the same year has been much reproduced. Beuys openly admired Warhol's work; and although Warhol may have been more ambivalent about Beuys, he did recognise the charm of the shaman.

Now 1979 was the year that Joseph Beuys was controversially awarded a solo show at the Guggenheim in New York. The show opened after September 18, 1979, so On Kawara was no longer doing his 'I WENT' or 'I MET,' but I would imagine he would have attended that show. I imagine that On Kawara and Joseph Beuys met in Dusseldorf in the 1980s. But what would Beuys have thought of Konrad Fischer's élite gallery and its conceptual artists? Beuys was all for grassroots art, not for art by specially talented individuals, though he was one himself. He was not interested in art for businessmen and millionaires. But then Richard Long and On Kawara, two of the most regularly exhibited artists, could hardly be said to be stalwarts of capitalism. They were so obviously independent-minded individuals who brought a kind of enlightenment to anyone who engaged with their practice. If Beuys could shake Andy Warhol's hand, and share a photo opportunity with him, then surely he would have been pleased to do the same with On Kawara.

Perhaps that's where the problem lay. The physical presence of Joseph Beuys was important for the effectiveness of his work. Whereas On Kawara insisted on being absent from his Date Paintings. No public statements and no photographs. But because that was such an emphatic choice - absolutely the opposite of endlessly posing, endlessly performing, endlessly talking Beuys - it is bound to have intrigued the artists themselves as well as their gallerists. In private, I'm certain that On Kawara and Joseph Beuys had plenty to say about each other's life and work.

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Right I've bowed my back and moved on through, and I've circled the objects in the space. The second room is the same as the previous one except for the presence of a grand piano on top of which is a blackboard and a thermometer. Would a Date Painting look out of place on top of the blackboard? Certainly not, but let's not go there yet.

First, let's examine what we've got here. The blackboard is lined for music but there are no notes written there. On the one hand, the place is set up for music, but, on the other, there is not going to be anything played. No seat for the pianist; no chalk for the composer. The medical thermometer suggests it's more important that the resident human being looks after himself. Is he or she warm enough? Nothing else can be done until that is taken care of. Try writing a poem in your underpants on a windy hillside in December. It is not possible!

I suppose the piano and blackboard symbolise creativity. It could just as easily be a typewriter on a table or a canvas on a palette. A canvas with two horizontal lines through the middle of it ready for the numbers and letters of a Date to be written there. Today for example: FEB. 15, 2024.

unadjustednonraw_thumb_1079b Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the photographer and copyright holder.

Actually, I have two earlier dates in mind. OCT.19, 1985 and JAN 23, 1986. The first is the day I visited the show, and the second is the day on which Joseph Beuys died, believe it or not. I think I kind of ignored the second date at the time. I had not long started writing fiction (using a clumsy typewriter) and I was not ready for the removal of Joseph Beuys as an inspiration. That year (1985) I read a total of 46 books according to my diary, including Ullysses, Ill Seen Ill Said and Worstward Ho, by the Irish contingent. Though the books I'd circled in my reading list as being especially vivid were 1982, Janine (Alasdair Gray), The Bus Conductor Hines (James Kelman), both Scottish. Also circled were Hunger by Knut Hamsun and Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban. All these writers were inspirations to me, but so had been Joseph Beuys, the fascinatingly dressed performance sculptor. I may not even have known of his death when it happened. I was doing temporary jobs for Dixon Wilson, Chartered Accountants, and there is a note on January 31, 1986, saying that I had yet again left their employ on January 31, 1986, but there was no January mention of Beuys's death. No mention of anything from January 13 to January 30 except my daily alcohol consumption, which was fairly low until the skin-full I consumed on the day I again left the sort of work that would have killed me if I'd carried on with it.

I now know that Beuys was terminally ill by 1985, with a rare lung disease, and that he would have known he was dying by the time of of making Plight. Yesterday, I listened to an audio interview he made at the time. No mention of his impending death, but he did not sound robust. His voice was gentle, discursive and even hesitant, not at all as I'd imagined it to be. In the interview he talks of how Anthony (d'Offay) had mentioned the problem that the gallery was having with noise from nearby building works. So Joseph had said vaguely that he had a muffling installation in mind, and so one day a letter arrived out of the blue from d'Offay's offering Beuys the slot. The artist talks also of felt being an important material to him, an extension of the kind of materials that could be used in sculpture. He whispered softly that 'Plight' has two meanings, one positive and one negative. I had only been thinking of plight as in the difficult situation. But plight can also refer to a solemn promise.

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There is a short story that Franz Kafka wrote in the last year of his sad yet exhilarating life, before he succumbed to tuberculosis. It's called 'The Burrow' and what you get is the point of view of this creature who has made itself a burrow to be proud of. In the burrow, the creature can rest, play, work, plan his next move, dismiss the importance of 'small fry', and worry about whether his burrow is truly secure or not. There is one room in the burrow that he calls the 'Castle Keep'. He doesn't mention that that's where he sits down and plays a Grand Piano, but why not, everything is symbolic.

Not much happens in 'The Burrow', except ironic scene-setting, but about half-way through the creature realises that it can hear something. He thinks it is the small fry, but following an in-depth investigation, decides that it is a large beast that means to track him down. And so he endeavours to be even quieter than usual and to go over the various measures he has taken to ensure that he is safe from attack from above or below, from in front or behind. Then he hears it again. A whistling noise. From then on he can't get the thought of 'the beast' - and his own inevitable demise at its hands - out of his mind.

I didn't know what to make of the story at the time, except that I found it mesmerising until its frustrating non-ending. But I read someone else's opinion, which was that the creature was listening to its own illness. Death would come to it, not from without, but from within. The malfunctioning lung, let's face it. I dare say George Orwell, when lapsing in and out of consciousness shortly before his death, was tormented by a whistling sound too.

The thing that remains with me from 'The Burrow' is the creature's consciousness. That consciousness's keen sense of self-preservation. Let's linger a little longer in Plight. Joseph Beuys's solemn promise to the rest of us. His solemn promise about how he would deal with such a consciousness-threatening situation.

Apart from 'plight' the word that lingers amongst the felt rolls is 'silence'. Not just because it is quiet inside the space but because 'THE SILENCE OF MARCEL DUCHAMP IS OVERRATED' was the name of a Beuys piece that was given prominence at Stockholm's Moderna Museet, and was used on the cover of the catalogue that On Kawara would certainly have spent time with while resident there. In 2014 On Kawara's final show, which he helped plan before he died, was called 'SILENCE', as was the catalogue. And so we have a triptych:




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Back outside the show, close to the front desk, this next photo was taken by Alastair Thain. Apparently, Beuys had just popped out of the installation for a smoke. Oh, dear. A man who had a terminal lung condition should not be smoking. But he was wearing his felt fedora so he was protected from everything that death could throw at him. The photo reveals that some ash had got stuck to the underside of the hat's brim.

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Joseph Beuys gave the photographer a photo to remember. Though as Alastair Thain said, it was impossible to take an uninteresting picture of Beuys. Those hollow cheekbones, that direct stare. Joseph Beuys, Samuel Beckett, David Bowie: they all shared a certain gaunt, fine-boned look. Very popular with society in general, it has to be said. It's what a committed, mysterious intellectual artist should look like, one might conclude.

Joseph Beuys giving the gift of a flower. Perhaps the carnation represents one or all of the 7,000 oaks he had been planting in the city of Kassel. Beuys was one of the first artists to realise that the world's health couldn't be taken for granted. He was an early and inspirational eco-warrior then. But first things first. His exotic presence lit up those apparently abject installations of his. The grey-brown rolls of felt, the silent piano, and so much more.

Where is this text going? Can't you hear the piano striking up? The first few notes of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata? Trust me, dear reader. I make a sincere promise that this essay is going somewhere.



It's back to the Anthony d'Offay Gallery, this time a few years earlier, on the afternoon of Monday, April 26, 1982. My diary entry reads: 'Beuys exhibition. One exhibit. Beeswax, mirror, chair, roof, fat, plaster, felt roll.'

I think this was my first view of a Beuys installation. It may not sound like it from my brief diary entry, but I was deeply impressed, and I bought the small, grey, site-specific book called 'Dernier Espace Avec Introspecteur'.

Below is an illustration from the book. The purple arrow is mine, and it points to Caroline Tisdall who often accompanied Beuys, took photographs and wrote about his work.


At that time, to my mind, the installation was 80% unadulterated mystery, 20% mysterious healing. A wooden chair supporting a big hunk of fat? A rough casting of 'roofs' made of beeswax to which traces of plaster still stuck? A smudged wing mirror mounted on a tripod in front of a photograph of the same wing mirror? Two long rolls of felt, one running along the floor and one suspended in mid-air? What did that all add up to? Whence the feeling of transcendence?


Now I think I'm in a better position to both analyse the work and admire it. As a child, Jospeh Beuys could see a sculpture of a golden swan on top of Schwanenburg Castle in the centre of Cleves, a Rhineland town of steeply sloping roofs. Much of this was reduced to rubble in the second World War (and the swan was destroyed), a war in which Beuys served in the Luftwaffe and was shot down and wounded.


The artist's myth is that he was a pilot rather than a radio-operator and that he was saved by a tribe of nomadic Tartars who found him, smothered his wounds in fat, and wrapped his body in felt to keep it warm. Though I've a feeling it was his post-war art education that gave him the option of coming up with such a tall story.


I made these possibly facetious purple notes back in 1982, but now I see that there may have been some sense to them. Beuys was using himself as part of his art, and so the elements of the installation had to be echoed in his personal appearance. He was performing and that performance was an important aspect of the work.

Be that as it may, today, February 16, 2024, I am paying a tribute to Jospeh Beuys via the work of On Kawara.


I've reversed the laying on of colours for this Date Painting. In other words, I've begun with two coats of black and have added a first coat of raw sienna on top. It's a colour that On Kawara associated with Cave Paintings, but it's also in the range of natural browns that Beuys worked with.

I have a second coat of raw Sienna to add, and then those numbers and letters that I am still enjoying drawing and painting with meticulous attention to detail. But in the meantime, let me return to the question of what the link was between On Kawara and Joseph Beuys. I'm more intrigued than ever that they didn't meet. Why do I say that? They had so much in common, so much to discuss, as this list suggests:

1) Both their countries had been torn apart by the second world war. Though it may have made a difference that Beuys was part of the war, and so may have felt guilt, whereas On Kawara had been an innocent child.

2) They both had a love/hate relationship with America. On Kawara had left Japan and settled in New York with Hiroko and was part of a cohesive group of Japanese New Yorkers. Whereas Joseph Beuys was fixated in healing Germany. So much so that he wouldn't visit the United States until the Vietnam War was over.

3) Both artists were against America's involvement in Vietnam. On Kawara mentioned this explicitly in some of his pre-1966 text paintings and 'I READ' often picked up on Vietnam stories in the press of whichever city he was living in.

4) Both artists knew about Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism and had rejected them. Both had links to conceptual art but had developed in their own unique way.

5) Both had professional links with Kasper König and Konrad Fischer. I now know that in 1967, by which time Kasper König was great friends with On Kawara, König visited Bruce Nauman in California. Nauman recalls the dealer being enthusiastic about Jospeh Beuys, sparking off a curiosity in him. Now if Kasper was talking in these terms to Nauman, he would surely have done so with On Kawara who he was so deeply involved with, professionally and personally.

Much of the new information I've uncovered in the last couple of days has been about Kasper König or Konrad Fischer. So let's switch to Dusseldorf in October 1967 and the inaugural exhibition at his new gallery. All the invited guests turned up, but there was nothing to see on the walls! The visitors soon realised that what they were walking on was the new sculpture by Carl Andre. What an innovation! And Joseph Beuys was amongst the people who were present at that opening.

When I wrote part one of this essay I didn't realise that Beuys went on to show at the Konrad Fischer Gallery in Dusseldorf. But he did, three times. Once in 1976 and twice in 1983. It may be that when Fischer started off, he meant to stick with new, young American artists (introduced by Kasper König) and European artists (cultivated by himself). Hence, the inclusion of Carl Andre, Bruce Nauman, On Kawara, Gilbert and George and Richard Long. But as the years went on, Fischer may have allowed himself to be less strict in his approach, and to exhibit other outstanding artists. Beuys, though he was ten years older than most of the gallery's artists, was seen as having earned a place.

I've already mentioned that it was Kasper König who phoned Beuys and invited him to Nova Scotia School of Art in May 1976 to accept an honorary doctorate and to give a lecture to the art school. The weekend was a huge success. I guess that must have impressed Kasper, and I can quite imagine that he communicated this to Konrad Fischer, because it was just a few months later, in September, 1976, that Beuys showed with Konrad Fischer for the first time in what we must remember was both of their home cities of Dusseldorf. Now where was On Kawara on this occasion? He was artist-in-residence in Berlin. I've checked 'I WENT' and 'I MET' for the length of the show and he didn't go to Dusseldorf and he didn't meet Joseph Beuys.

In February, 1977, On and Hiroko did go to Dusseldorf for a few days as the guest of Konrad Fischer. Kawara met Bruce Nauman (cowboy boots) and Gilbert and George (English suits), but again he didn't meet Joseph Beuys (fisherman's jacket). I've looked at the 'I WENT' Maps and the house that Beuys lived in with his wife from 1961 until his death in 1986 is near the centre of the city, and not very far from the spaces that On Kawara went according to his line of red biro. One begins to realise, given the links between König, Fischer and Beuys on the one hand, and König, Fischer and Kawara on the other, that the non-meeting with Beuys must have been deliberate. How is it to be explained, but imaginatively? But first things first: am I finished this Date Painting?


Nearly. So let me visualise something. On Kawara sitting with Pontus Hultén in the latter's office in Moderna Museet in December of 1972 or January of 1973. Pontus had hosted both Andy Warhol and Joseph Beuys not long before. And now he realises just what an original On Kawara is.

Pontus: "So, On, how famous do you want to be?"

On: "I do not want to be famous. I want my work to be appreciated all around the world for what it is, and nothing more. As you know, there are to be no photos taken of my face and I will make no public statements."

Pontus: "You do know that there is a danger that these precautions against fame themselves will help create a cult of personality?"

On: "I know."

Pontus: "Do you know to steer clear of those artists that have most effectively made a cult of personality?"

On: "You mean Warhol and Beuys?"

Pontus: "Those two in particular. Indeed, Joseph Beuys in particular."

On: "Do not worry. Our paths will not cross, forgive the pun."

Pontus: "You are going to avoid him? Will that be possible? Kasper wants you to meet as soon as possible!"

On: "Kasper wants me to send 'I GOT UP' cards to him. But the only person in Dusseldorf who will get those is Konrad Fischer and members of his nice family. Kasper says to me: 'but you send cards to Sol Lewitt, Baldessari and Dan, so why not Joseph?' I reply: 'If I sent him an 'I GOT UP' card featuring the Statue of Liberty every day for 120 days, it would be misunderstood by everyone, it would change my life, and it would grossly interfere with what I understand to be my work."

Pontus: "You could just meet him, On. Keep it low key. You do that all the time."

On: "He already knows my work and, I am told, very much likes it. He is curious about me as well. And that would end in disaster."

Pontus: "So he won't be appearing on an 'I MET' anytime soon?"

On: "Not if I see him coming. And it is difficult not to spot him from quite some distance!"


OK that's enough. I need to take a break from that type of work. Let me feast my eyes on today's Date Painting. For it makes me smile.


I could look at those letters and numbers all day, and go on improving them. The numbers of the year seem to face the numbers of the day and the letters of the month. The small unit of time has not yet been subsumed into the larger unit. Really, I could soak up the sight of that 'day within a year' for minutes on end…

But enough. Joseph Beuys agreed to come to the United States for the first time in 1974. First to give three lectures in January, and then again in May. This second time he landed at JFK Airport, was wrapped in felt and taken by ambulance to the René Block gallery in Manhattan. He spent three days sharing the space with a coyote. This was a gesture of respect to the indigenous people and animals of America. I Like America and America Likes Me is a quasi-ironic title, ironic in its attachment to post-War American society, but ostensibly genuine in its affection for the indigenous American coyote. On Kawara was also in New York at this time and I think it will prove useful to compare and contrast what these consummate artists were doing

May 23, 1974:

Joseph Beuys:

unadjustednonraw_thumb_107d1 Caroline Tisdall Joseph Beuys Coyote 2011

"Shall we go and see On Kawara, my friend? Or will we wait for him to seek us out? Which would be the coolest? Together we could do so much more than we can do while working apart."

On Kawara:

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On Kawara. I GOT UP, I WENT and I MET all reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

As you can see, On Kawara got up at 8.34A.M. and sent a postcard to Keiji Usami, a celebrated post-war Japanese painter who lived in Tokyo. On (and Hiroko?) went to see Kasper König and family, possibly at 205 East 78th Street. Earlier that month, On and Hiroko had been living there, looking after Coco and Lili while their parents were out of town, but now the adult Königs were back. The René Block Gallery, where Beuys was bonding with the coyote, was in SoHo, on West Broadway, which you can see going north-south in the middle of the bottom fifth of the map.

Apparently, only a small number of people watched Beuys and the coyote, so as not to disturb the animal too much. Possibly just Caroline Tindall, who took the photos and would later write up the episode, and the German gallery owner, René Block. Perhaps Kasper König was invited along. But at this stage, I don't know. Although Beuys's coyote adventure is famous, it is very difficult to get at the precise facts. Many articles say that Beuys was in with the coyote for a full week, but I've concluded that the more authoritative articles say three days. The coyote's name was Little John.

May 24, 1974:

Joseph Beuys:

unadjustednonraw_thumb_107ce Caroline Tisdall Joseph Beuys Coyote 2011

"Yes, my friend, I am presenting you with a tippee. You can enter this place without fear and you will be treated with kindness and respect."

"It is such a long way from the Rhine, from the land that I love, so you must understand if I cannot be smiling all the time."

"Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! You cataracts and hurricanes, spout Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks! You sulphurous and thought-executing fires, Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts…"

On Kawara:

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On Kawara. I GOT UP, I WENT and I MET all reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

On day two of Beuys's Coyote, On got another postcard of the Empire State Building off to Keiji Usami. Then he went out and about. The artist went north to 80th Street and 2nd Avenue, as it says in red along the top edge of the map. Also, he took a walk up and down West Broadway. But he didn't venture south as far as the René Block Gallery. On (and Hiroko?) visited the Toyoshima family on Lispenard Street right at the bottom of the map. Tak Toyoshima, future cartoonist, would have been a baby at the time, but Soroku, his father, was one of the three Japanese New Yorkers that were On's closest male friends.

Soroku: "Any news from the René Block Gallery?"

On: "Kasper tells me that the coyote is under Beuys's spell and vice versa."

Soroku: "I am so happy for them both."

May 25, 1974:

Joseph Beuys:

unadjustednonraw_thumb_107cf Caroline Tisdall Joseph Beuys Coyote 2011

"Do you mind if I continue to smoke in here, friend? Since landing in America I have been smoking Lucky Strike cigarettes. Same as On Kawara, I believe. Or so I was told by Kasper König. And why would he lie?… This time in America has been getting me down. I feel so alone that I must sing as well as smoke. Feel free, Little John, to join in the chorus…

"We live on the Rhine. The Rhine we love.
By night we sleep on the cliffs above;
By day we paint, and at eve we stand
On long bare islands of German sand.
And when the sun sinks slowly down
And the great rock walls grow dark and brown,
Where the whooper swans ghost-like skim,
Wing to wing we dance around,
Stamping our feet with a frumpy sound,
Opening our mouths as Whoopers ought,
And this is the song we nightly snort; -
Professor, Performer, Painter jee -
We think no birds so happy as we!
Professor, Performer, Pantheist jill,
We think so then and we thought so still."

On Kawara:
kfpde100254tdewy3ocm3mzjw_thumb_107cb.6zllvv82r3g0025ls8o2w60025dg_thumb_107cd 2ivsac0025zryeuf3fa0025lc002bfg_thumb_107cc
On Kawara. I GOT UP, I WENT and I MET all reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

May 25, 1974 was a Date Painting day. So on the 25th and 26th, On bought a New York Times and used them to line the Date Painting box and to construct two pages for 'I READ'. Meanwhile, Beuys was having multiple copies of the Wall Street Journal delivered to the René Block Gallery and all the articles I've read say that the coyote urinated on the pile of newspapers, so I guess that must be what happened.

The fact that On met his close friend Soroku on a Date Painting day was quite unusual. I think they were in the habit of playing chess together, or having long conversations. So On's days tended to be Soroku days or Date Painting days.

By the end of May 25, Joseph Beuys had been put back on the stretcher like the one he'd arrived on and taken by ambulance to JFK Airport in such a way that he didn't have to put a foot on American paving stones. His time in New York was totally spent at the René Block gallery with the coyote.


By evening, I am not particularly happy with the above scene (it's ended up more facetious than I'd intended: I will invest in the Caroline Tisdall book covering the action and revise the text). However, I'm happy enough to place today's Date Painting amongst Jospeh Beuys relics of my London gallery-going past. In a vitrine, no less. Which is actually just a shelf in what used to be my drinks cupboard.


The wax is called 'Black Bison'. So it may not be beeswax, exactly, but it still hits the spot. What I mean is that when I take the lid off the tin and inhale, the smell is deeply satisfying. Every time I breathe in its natural nectar, my eye is led to the fat chair tucked into the right hand corner of the vitrine. I could look at this tableau - and smell it - all day. Really, I could soak up the sight and aesthetic scent of this vitrine for minutes on end. But enough. I'm not quite finished yet.

In 1979 Andy Warhol met Joseph Beuys for the first time. It was at a Dusseldorf gallery (though not Konrad Fischer's). Joseph Beuys strode across the room to Andy Warhol for the meeting of art world Gods. "It's always been so difficult to meet you," said Beuys. Or words to that effect. It has to be said that both Beuys and Warhol had amazing cheekbones. They proceeded to do their best to charm each other. Finally, Warhol escaped his self-consciousness by adopting the well-practised tactic of asking if he could take a photo, and a camera suddenly appeared in his hands. I wonder what happened to the photo that Warhol took of his fellow art-hero that day.

lbf1l8drta002b65lgzprm5na_thumb_107d4 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.

Later in 1979 they met again, at the solo retrospective that Beuys had at the Guggenheim from November 2 onwards. Now it was on September 18, 1979 that - after eleven years - On Kawara stopped doing his daily 'I GOT UP', 'I WENT' and 'I MET '. Which is a bit unfortunate from my perspective as a researcher. On may have gone to the opening of Beuys's show, and he may have met him at long last. But I don't think that would have happened.

I've looked through every single 'I MET' from May 1968 to September 1979 and the name of Jospeh Beuys simply does not come up (nor does Andy Warhol's), despite their shared associations. And I suspect that hypothetical meeting never did take place thereafter, though I could be wrong about that. I'm going to expand on why I don't think they ever did meet, right here and right now.

As I say, Beuys met Warhol for a second time while the former was in New York for his Guggenheim show, and arranged to take another photo in more controlled circumstances. In subsequent years, but in 1980 in particular, Warhol milked this photo stupendously.

The variety of portraits that Warhol produced from the one polaroid have been on show until earlier this month (February, 2024) at Ely House, London. The show can be seen online at Thaddaeus Ropac's website, from which I've taken the liberty of making a few Screen Saves. I remember seeing some of the portraits that follow on the walls of Anthony d'Offay's Gallery in the 1980s

eztw2bywqdmooaybi4gvyw_thumb_107e6 Andy Warhol. Silkscreen portraits of Joseph Beuys. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Thaddaeus Ropac and the Estate of Andy Warhol.

With this next portrait, as well as a screen print, an element of actual painting is involved. Andy never was afraid to take up a paint brush and try his hand. Or did he leave that to his assistants at the Factory? I think he would have enjoyed doing it himself. He was the one with the eye for colour, shape and iconic image, though Beuys has almost lost his cheekbones in these works.

osky0002bxlrugk2hoph0025clsq_thumb_107e5 Andy Warhol. Joseph Beuys, 1980–3. Acrylic and silkscreen on canvas Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Thaddaeus Ropac and the Estate of Andy Warhol.

In his time, Andy Warhol made a lot of portraits. But there were a handful of subjects that he went overboard for. Marilyn, Elvis and Joseph Beuys are the names that spring to mind. Plus himself in a fright-wig.

"Andy Warhol, looks a scream
Hang him on my wa-aw-aw-all.
Andy Warhol, silver screen
Can't tell them apart at aw-aw-aw-aw-aw-ll."


Let's try that again using another colour:

"Joseph Beuys, looks a scream
Hang him on my wa-aw-aw-all.
Jospeh Beuys, silver screen
Can't tell them apart at aw-aw-aw-aw-aw-ll."

Can you imagine what Warhol would have done if he'd had the opportunity to take a photo of On Kawara? How about a double portrait of Kawara and Beuys? How about a set of four: Beuys, Kawara, Beuys, Kawara. I believe On Kawara used to wear a hat. I don't know if it was a felt fedora, but it might have been…

0nkhofgoqiia5vcjjtyjxq_thumb_107e7 Andy Warhol. Joseph Beuys, 1980–3. Unique Trial Proof screenprint with rayon flock on Lenox Museum Board. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Thaddaeus Ropac and the Estate of Andy Warhol.

If Andy Warhol had managed to get a photo of On Kawara, surely the Date Painter would have been given the diamond dust treatment. Not many sitters were granted that honour. Joseph Beuys was, of course. Behold, the glittering shaman courtesy of the gifted showman:

ankiomklqdammz3wuroz3w_thumb_107e1 Andy Warhol. Joseph Beuys, 1980 Silkscreen ink and diamond dust on canvas. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Thaddaeus Ropac and the Estate of Andy Warhol.

Diamond Dust On Kawara? Any Warhol would have loved it. Diamond Dust Date Painter? Joseph Beuys would have loved it as well. Diamond Dust Double Diamond?…

s9j1s002bvar6e2g5aonrragq_thumb_107dd Andy Warhol. Joseph Beuys, 1980 Synthetic polymer paint, diamond dust and silkscreen ink on linen (detail). Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Thaddaeus Ropac and the Estate of Andy Warhol.

Either Beuys or Warhol would surely have had the idea of commemorating Beuys's time with the coyote by screen printing 'MAY 25, 1974' across the middle of the above image. In meticulous white lettering.

Suddenly (eventually, all at once) there would have been no limit to On's fame. Diamond Dust On Kawara x 64 might have looked something like this:

4qeqnmooqdej50hz0025dirpw_thumb_107e0 Andy Warhol. Joseph Beuys (Reversal), 1983 Acrylic, silkscreen ink and diamond dust on canvas. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Thaddaeus Ropac and the Estate of Andy Warhol.

"Fame, fame, fame, fame, fame, fame, fame, fame, fame…" as David Bowie once sang, and forever sings on Youtube.

"No thanks," as I suspect On Kawara would have said. "It's a… game."


When I realised that today was going to be February 22, 2024, I realised I wanted to make it a Date Painting day, so as to round off this essay with swans. Let me explain…

Joseph Beuys often made work involving wild animals. The swan. The coyote. A horse. Explaining Pictures to a Dead Hare. Lightning with Stag Caught in its Glare. And so on.

What we have here is four swans-a-swimming. Do you see them? I first saw the figure 2 as a swan when painting FEB. 22, 2022. Five swans that day.


I'm imagining the four swans a-swimming down the Rhine in the direction of Cleves. First they must go past the city of Cologne where On Kawara made a site-specific installation at the request of Udo Kittelmann in 1995. I think it was while doing this show that On Kawara realised that he must remember to restrain his own Messianic tendencies, however slight these might be. It was the nearest he ever came to performing his Date Painting in public.

Four swans swimming past Cologne and into the Lower Rhine region. What do they do when they get to the vicinity of Cleves? The most golden individual flies to the top of the Schwanenberg Castle and perches there so that it is as if the Second World War never happened. It did happen. But thanks to the combined efforts of Joseph Beuys and On Kawara some of the wounds of Germany and Japan have been healed. It is as if the evil never happened.


Let me step out of the conservatory which is the warmest room in my house when the sun is shining. What did Franz Kafka's protagonist call the most important room in his burrow again? The Castle Keep. Let us endeavour to keep the Castle Keep forever. I look west, to the land of Trump. And I look east, to the land of Putin. And I hear a faint whistling sound that I shall try and ignore.


Every time the word Putin tries to enter my mind, it turns into the word Beuys. And every time the name Donald Trump tries to manifest itself, the name On Kawara forms instead. To understand that better, just consider this entire website. It's not a perfect defence of all that's worth living for - liberty, equality, individuality, consciousness, creativity - but it's the best I can come up with for now.