1976 was the year of Berlin. Let's be clear about that. On Kawara was invited to the city as part of the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) scheme run by René Block, a gallerist who had been influential in West Berlin since 1964, and who had worked repeatedly with Joseph Beuys. Some of the other DAAD artists in 1976/77 were Roman Opalka, Braco Dimitrijevic and Dan Graham. So expect numbers, casual passers-by and two-way mirrors.

But, first, New York. On only painted one Date Painting in January, a B-sized painting on January 25. In February, again only one Date Painting was made, size B, on Feb. 16. The Kawaras arrived in Berlin on February 27. On got up at 4.43pm that day and sent a postcard to Salvatore Ala, a gallerist in Milan. As he did every day until March 18. The only other late getting up time was Feb 29, when On arose at 2.23pm. He may still have been getting over the flight from New York.

As I write, it's not clear to me whether On was on his own or with Hiroko to begin with. Hiroko would certainly join him. But the address used for the first five postcards was Kulmbacherstrasse 15. This is registered on the I WENT for March 1, 1976, towards the bottom right of the red biro route. I should say also that the furthest north part of the route is where Berlin Art College was:

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

By March 3, On had moved further west, to the point close to the left side of the above map that he had visited on March 1, at Damaschkestrasse 21. In other words, the dot representing the place where On slept in the map below, which is I WENT for March 11, 1976, is that same place.

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

Below is that same story told on a single Google map. As you can see, the artist has moved west, but is still in the south west quadrant of Berlin. Still in that island of West Berlin separated by a wall from the surrounding sea of so-called Communism.


Let us take look more closely at Damaschkestrasse 21, since On Kawara stayed there until February 1977, apart from a two-month break in New York.


Let's place a photo of a Date Painting at this point in the text. After all that's what connects On Kawara's efforts. This is what gave purpose to his residency:

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

Apologies for the poor quality of the reproduction. Worth it, just about, for the German spelling of March.

Below is a photo taken from the inside front cover of
On Kawara 1976 Berlin 1986. The book does not make it clear what the photo pertains to. 'Hiroko Hiraoka, New York', is the credit for the 'Inside cover' but I think that applies to the photo on the inside back cover. I assume the photo below is taken from the Kawaras accommodation in Berlin, perhaps taken from one of those windows in the above aerial photo, looking into the closed courtyard. I hope to be able to check out that assumption at some stage.

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

The aforementioned book, intended to cover the whole year that On Kawara was in Berlin, only includes three I WENT maps (March 11, Aug. 13 and Nov. 2). It also includes just three I MET lists, and only one from the initial February 27 to April 21 stay. That I MET is for April 20. Here it is:

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

I don't know who Barbara Richter (no relation to Gerhard) or Hans-Jurgen Hecht are, or were, though as we'll see Barbara Richter was sent postcards from New York. I like to assume On woke up with Hiroko, passed some time of the day with her, briefly met Barbara and Hans-Jurgen for a coffee, and then spent the rest of the day talking politics and art with Dan Graham, who was getting into the use of walls of glass, some of them mirrored. Indeed he would exhibit two rooms divided by a one-way mirrored wall at the Venice Bienalle that year. You stand in one room and see the people in the other room. You stand in the other room and you see yourself reflected. Which is the best room to be in? Perhaps Dan had a plan for he and On to get to the other side of the Berlin Wall where there would be a different regime to observe. Dan was already tired at staring at the Berlin Wall and seeing only himself.

Okay, I said that the book contains three I MET lists. The other two, forming a double-page spread, start with the same two names. That has got to be significant:

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

From the age of 24, Koichi Ono lived for many years in Berlin. After leaving there he returned to Japan, where he ended up being a professor of communications, a position from which he has now retired. He has a website and on that there is a contact email. So…

Dear Koichi,

I’m researching the life and work of On Kawara for the website onkawara.co.uk

I have reached 1976 in my research, the year that On lived in Berlin. I see your name on the I MET list for 4 Sept. 1976 and 12 Dec. 1976. As you are first on the list, I suspect this means it was after midnight and you would have been at the end of the previous day’s I MET lists as well, that is 3 Sept. 76 and 11 Dec. 76.

Did you meet the Kawaras often that year? How and where did you first meet? What difference, if any, did their presence make to your life in Berlin at the time? Do you have any specific memories that you would be willing to share with me (and the readers of my website)?

I hope you do not mind my interrupting your life to ask these questions about so long ago. Please have a lovely 28 Sept. 2021.

Best wishes,

Duncan McLaren

I also write to René Block and Braco Dimitrijevic along the same lines. But it's Koichi Ono that gets back to me on October 1:

Dear Duncan

Thank you for your E-mail from ……from where, in which city in which land are you living, would you let me know?
I think you are good researcher. As you reason, I met On Kawara often in West Berlin, 1976.
When I was a student at the art university in Tokyo, I saw photos of work by On Kawara in an art magazine. I found it fantastic and great, so I was interested in him, but I knew On was living in New York, so I thought I would not meet him in my life at all. But encounter in life is very strange. I lived in West Berlin 14 years long, from 1970 till 1984. 1976 I was in the master class at Art University in West Berlin. I was invited with my wife Yuri by an acquaintance for a party in his house. There I met On Kawara and Hiroko, and at the end of party On gave his phone number also his address to me and said “would you like to visit us shortly?”. It was the beginning of forming our friendship. I and Yuri often visited On and Hiroko in their apartment. Several times, as you reason, we stayed for the night with them. We invited On and Hiroko to our apartment once in a while. This company continued till they went home to New York. Though it was only one year long, we had made a lot of memories, so it is impossible to write them now here at once. But I think I will not disappoint you, so I will try to find the time to write about my memory of that time. This is my first E-mail, it will not be last one.

Best Wishes from Japan

Koichi Ono

I am delighted to get this. 1976 comes to 2021. More than that: Berlin, 1976, comes to Scotland, 2021, via Japan, 2021 - isn't that exciting? Of course, what I should do now is wait patiently until Koichi composes a recollection that he feels does justice to the big questions I have asked him. Instead, I write back the same day:

Dear Koichi,

It is great to hear from you. I am sure you will have fascinating memories of On and Hiroko and I eagerly await them.

I live in the town of Blairgowrie, in Scotland. On never came to Scotland. Richard Demarco invited Jospeh Beuys here, and the work that Beuys made in Scotland has been discussed ever since. It is a shame that no-one invited On Kawara. In a way, I am trying to make up for that now. Where are you in Japan? I have never been there, except with the help of Google Street View!

It was not really very good research. I only have a total of 4 'I MET' lists from 1976 and you were on 2 of them, so I had to try and get in touch!

Although there is a book about On Kawara’s time in Berlin (
On Kawara, 1976 Berlin 1986), it only has a 3 I WENT maps and 3 I MET lists. However, it reproduces hundreds of the I GOT UP postcards so I’m glad I’ve got it. Each of the various books on On provides unique insights. But the whole story is never told. This project would be evolving in a different way if I had access to the limited edition sets of I WENT/I MET/I READ and I GOT UP that Michele Didier produced in Paris in 2004 and 2007. However, I do not know a single institution or individual who has invested in these. Do they actually exist? Sometimes I wonder. When I contacted Michele she was quite evasive. I suspect she wants to sell the books, not to freely give out the information, which is understandable from her perspective. As things stand, I am making the most of my limited data, and, in fact, enjoying the research and the writing hugely.

I do not want to ask you too many leading questions. I am very happy for you to tell me what you want to tell me in your own way. However, I will just start things off with a few questions that might jog your memory and/or provide a structure. But please ignore what follows, if you prefer...

What were the key places for you and On in Berlin? What was your address at the time? What streets were the restaurants and bars that you frequented? I imagine that you went to the René Block Gallery quite often. On was invited to Berlin on the Daad scheme, as was Braco Dimitrijevic, Roman Opalka and Dan Graham. Did you meet any or all of them? Did you observe On and Dan in conversation? What was the basis of their friendship? They must have shared a sense of humour. On sent Dan over 100 copies of the same postcard in 1970! I find a lot of what Dan says or writes quite hard to understand, I’m not sure we are on the same wavelength. However, I haven’t given up on him!

Did you ever talk to On about the Brucke Museum and its collection of Expressionist paintings? I am interested because they may have struck a chord with On’s own post-War work, before he settled in New York. Also, David Bowie and Iggy Pop were living in Berlin from August 1976, and they were fascinated by paintings in the Brucke, using aspects of one picture (Roquairol by Erich Hecker) in the cover of three different albums. Because of my admiration for Bowie’s music, I am trying to find a link between him and On, however delicate or tenuous. You may not know or like Bowie or his work, not many people do who were of an older generation. I am 64 and just the right age to have come under his influence! Bowie was influenced by the art of Japan and there is a Japanese photographer, Masayoshi Sukita, who took pictures of Bowie for forty years. I would like to get in touch with him soon. Also, while living on the first floor of 155 Hauptstrasse in Schoneberg, Bowie hung up in the living room a painting he’d made of Yukio Mishima.

Did On take an interest in your own work in 1976? Had you done the ‘Each square of this x line will be destroyed in y minutes’ work at this time? Can you remember anything he said about it? Did his words influence you? And did he talk about his own work to you?

Well, that is enough for now. It is probably too much all in one email, so I must apologise for that and urge you not to let it put you off writing to me again!

With best wishes,

On Kawara only made two Date Paintings in Berlin in March (24 and 26) and three in April (5, 10 and 11). Then he and Hiroko returned to New York from April 22 to July 2. I am getting these dates from the reproductions of postcards in
On Kawara 1976 Berlin 1986. The repros are fairly small, 15 per A4 page, but there are 24 pages of them, making 360 in all.

I say again, there is huge imbalance here:

I GOT UP 360

Even if you reduce that to pages, it's:

I GOT UP 49 (including 25 pages of picture side of postcards, though only 2 of those show 15 pics on a page, all the others show a single small central pic.)

Perhaps the I MET and I WENT gave away too much information about On's life in 1976. But the book was published ten years after 1976, so I'm not sure that hypothesis bears up. Perhaps René Block wanted to communicate the relentlessness of the artist's work, and so felt that any one of the series should be reproduced in depth. And having in 1986 embarked on the expensive process of calling back all the postcards, it may have seemed logical to share this information with the world. Not realising that the I MET and I WENT information would never be released to the public; or only shown in public galleries for the length of exhibitions, or made available in a very expensive limited edition (that I hardly believe exists!).

Anyway, the fullness of the I GOT UP information has its advantages. Here is how the Berlin year began:

I GOT UP: postcards from Berlin


27 Feb to March 18
Salvatore Ala…………….21…………………missing

19 March to April 21
Konrad Fischer …………32…………………Roger Mazarguil 30

It's good that Konrad Fischer, that ace Dusseldorf gallerist, and Roger Mararguil, that top Parisian restauranteur, are being kept in the loop. On Kawara is living in Berlin! He gets up between 9am and 10.20am, day after day!

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

Not only does he get up. He moves around. And although I don't have the I WENT maps to illustrate this, we have the postcards. I think we can assume that there is nothing below that On Kawara didn't witness with his own eyes in these first two months in Berlin. Ah, but that's nonsense: Berlin, a wall runs through it. On Kawara, like the photographers who made the postcards, had to stick to one side of the wall.
Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

I think we can enlarge one of those pictures. Because it highlights the complication. The historic centre of Berlin was, for the most part, in East Berlin when the wall went up. West Berlin was the south west quadrant of the city without the middle. So although one might like to think the following picture showed East Germany on the right of the wall - an impenetrable forest of communism - that's not the case. East Berlin is on the left. Prestigious buildings, such as the Brandenburg Gate, and spaces in between where buildings had been destroyed during the war against the Allies.


But how interesting for On Kawara, a man from Japan, to find himself at the centre of that other defeated nation, Germany. At least Tokyo wasn't divided in two, with a wall separating those being brought up subject to one regime and those being raised under another. Ha! - tell that to Yukio Mishima. Wasn't his mature work about Tokyo being a defenceless city divided between the spiritual values of the past, in perpetual retreat, and the Western commercialisation that was gaining ground even before the disastrous war? Not that Germany had much else in common with traditional Japan. But they had both been defeated by the Allies.

Let's blow up a couple of the postcards that are reproduced in the
On Kawara 1976 Berlin 1986 book. This first one was taken in West Berlin, looking straight onto the Brandenburg Gate with the Telephone Tower behind, confirming the orientation.


I imagine that's On and Dan on the right of the postcard. What are they saying? Dan is suggesting it would be easy to get to the other side of the wall. Pick an important official in East Germany. Write them a flattering letter about wanting to meet them to see how they do something. Get written permission to visit, and then drive straight through Checkpoint Charlie.

On: :Are we going to do that? I would like to see the Van Gogh at the Alte Nationalgalerie. Moulin de la Galette."

Dan: "Let's wait and see."

Later. On and Dan have got themselves to where they can better appraise what's actually going on. Instead of seeing themselves in the mirror of the Berlin Wall, they are seeing over the mirror into communist Berlin.


Dan Graham loves it. What does Dan love? He loves the fact that in 1970, On sent him more than a hundred copies of the same postcard of the Statue of Liberty in New York. Now, in Berlin, Dan challenges On to send him a single postcard of the Reichstag.

On: "There are no postcards of the Reichstag."

Dan: "That's right. And why is that?"

On: "It's on the other side of the wall."

Dan: "No, it's actually on this side. But the wall is hard up against the back of the building and Germany's traditional parliament is closed, because Germany is being run by the Communist Party in Moscow and a diminished Parliament in Bonn. The postcard makers could use the closed building as the subject of a postcard, but who would want to send a postcard to their friend of the building that best symbolises Germany's defeat and Berlin's sadness?"

On: "We are in a sad city,"

Dan: "And don't we just love it?"

Geography lesson over. No, that's not true. Geography lesson in full flow.


Let's take a break from Berlin. Is that what the Kawaras said to each other after being there for two months?

The On Kawara/Berlin book doesn't say who the postcards went to on the Kawaras temporary return to New York on April 22. But other sources tell us that they were posted from 423 Broadway, New York. At least that's the address on the cards (the only two I've seen) sent on April 28 and June 18 to Yutaka Kuriyama in Tokyo.

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

I suspect this means that the East 22nd Street flat was given up, because of the year of absence from New York. But I'll try and return to that.

Yutaka Kuriyama was an important collector of Warhol, according to Wikipedia. He was also a photographer, and a book of portraits was published in 1974. Unless I'm conflating two different Yutaka Kuriyamas. I'll try and come back to that as well, if I find out more.

On returning to Europe, the Kawaras stopped over at Venice. I'm not sure for how long, but I've got one postcard and an I MET map thanks to the endlessly useful
On Kawara: Horizontality/Verticality. There was no Date Painting done in Venice. I guess the Kawaras would have been in tourist mode, but we'll soon see.

As I mentioned, Dan Graham did some important and influential glass wall work at the Venice Biennale in 1976, but that opened towards the end of July, so the Kawaras wouldn't have seen it. In June, Dan may have been installing, but that is never
a good time to visit an artist.

On: "Shall we leave Dan alone?"

Hiroko: "Oh, there is so
much to see without bothering our friend!"

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

The I WENT map for 25 June, 1976, is a thing of beauty. It's been marked on quite a large scale map, which reminds me a little of the I WENT created in Dakar, on the day I suspect that On and Hiroko got married in 1973. It's almost as if On Kawara has taken special care with it, knowing that he and his partner have just enjoyed exploring the World Heritage site.

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

I have explored the route using Google and have taken a series of about twenty photos that move the couple from their glorious hotel, along the narrow roads that cross dramatic canals, as they moved from one major Roman Catholic site to another. I will limit myself to three shots, as otherwise there would be the danger that a single day in Venice would eclipse the year of Berlin in the mind of you, my sensitive reader.

First, an interior of the Bel Sito hotel, where I can well imagine On and Hiroko planning their day's sight-seeing while sipping their morning coffee.


Second, strolling through St Mark's Square a few hundred yards from the hotel. On does not omit to go into the adjoining post office at this point in the day's journey, presumably to post the card reproduced a few images above.


Third, glancing down a canal at the air end of the day's utterly mind-blowing ramble.


In Venice, space is a different experience. The lanes are so narrow and dark and then you suddenly find yourself in an open courtyard, bursting with light. Or looking down a canal, sparkling with water. No wonder the Catholic Church went crazy for property in a place where one is constantly edging between the elements of solid stone, transparent air and glinting water.

I wonder why On didn't produce a Date Painting while in Venice. Perhaps he'd left his painting kit in his permanent home, New York and in his year-long residency accommodation in Berlin, not expecting to be needing it in between those two homes of his. Venice wasn't part of a road-trip, after all. It was a glorious one-off.

Next stop, Paris. Not for long. But long enough to eat at Roger Marzarguil's restaurant (I imagine) and to send
a postcard to the mysterious Frank Donegan, the man who could never beat On at ping-pong.

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


Back in Berlin.

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

The postcards for July and August were to Hanne Darboven, a woman artist making tremendous inroads into a man's world. And to Harald Szeeman, Swiss curator.

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

By August/September, one of the postcards was going to Albin Uldry, a Bern gallerist. Here is how they were shown at the ON KAWARA: SILENCE show at the Guggenheim in 2014:

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

Thankfully, I have access to a single I WENT map for August, 1976. So let's make the most of August 13 First, let's enlarge the detail:

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

On went to two places during the day. Possibly by bus. Possibly by bike. Here is the place that is at the end of his southern journey. It's the entrance to a block of flats on Bundesallee:


Very wide streets compared to New York. Very dull architecture compared to Venice. I must remember the address in case it comes up at some stage.

Then the journey to the east ends up with On going into two neighbouring doors, then three more neighbouring doors a block further down the street.

Looking over towards the first pair of doors… Nothing really to see. Another wide road, a few bikes…


Then, see below, onto the street called Winterfieldstrasse. Flats above shops. On Kawara went into three doors for whatever reason. Google has chosen to obscure the top right of this image for reasons of its own.


There is so little remarkable about these places that On Kawara went on August 13, one wonders why the artist selected this day in particular to place before the public in a book. Perhaps it was just a typical Berlin day. Or perhaps one or other of the addresses will prove to have significance.

Hang on a minute. I've just thought of something. What if the thing about this day was not the destinations reached but the route taken? Yes, indeed, the route taken for one of the journeys (the assumed second journey) was along Kurfurstendamm. And that's what a lot of On Kawara's postcards feature.

If I stop here, for example, in the shot is what's left of an old church, a futuristic block (actually the new church) beside it and a modernist block with the Mercedes logo sticking out of its roof.


These iconic buildings crop up time and time again in the postcards that On sent from Berlin. Let's follow On's journey back from Winterfieldstrasse on a mode of transport not known to man, something between double-decker bus and low-flying plane.


Keep your eye on that gnarled finger of an old church, which you can see on the horizon in the above picture…


That's the Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church. Air raids in 1943 damaged it so badly that the top of the main spire broke off and the roof collapsed. At the end of the war, the Allies were unwilling to rebuild it, since it had been a symbol of excessive national pride. Instead, the ruin stood as a constant reminder to Berliners of the horrors of war…


In 1956, plans to completely demolish the church and build a new one led to public protests. As a compromise, the architect, Egon Eiermann, integrated the ruin in his design for the new church. The present church, the slim metal tower, was completed between 1959 and 1961. Its design consists of concrete honeycomb elements with stained glass inlays. The memorial hall in the old spire is now a memorial against war and destruction and a symbol of reconciliation.


Below is the pick of the postcards to my post-9/11 eye. I'm supposing the plane has been photoshopped in.


It looks suspiciously like a plane taking off from the Tempelhof Airport which served West Berlin at the time. I mean its not the same plane, but it looks like the same perspective on the same flightpath.


Don't be tempted, oh tourist of recent years, to think that the enormously long modernist building is the Stazi headquarters in East Berlin. As I said before, All of On's postcards were of West Berlin.

Are you beginning to develop a mental map of Berlin, dear reader? I believe I am and that it will be useful.


It is now Wednesday, October 6, and Koichi Ono has not yet got back to me. While I'm waiting patiently for this potentially important communication, let me explore what some readers will think of as a tangent. But I hope those gentle souls will bear with me. Let me set out what I know about David Bowie in Berlin, always bearing in mind that I'm writing in an On Kawara context.

First, like Kawara, Bowie had been exploring the United States over that last few years. While On Kawara had completed his east-west road trip towards the end of 1973, the trip to Florida in March/April, 1974, and a road trip to the south in early 1975 coupled with one to the Great Lakes in late 1975, Bowie's road-trips had been his Ziggy Stardust Tour in autumn 1972, and in February, March 1973. Also, his Diamond Dogs Tour in summer and autumn 1974. So the two never quite found themselves in the same city on the same night.

But let's imagine that. On Kawara to complete a Date Painting, David Bowie to perform in front of a crowd of thousands. Merely by juxtaposing the two activities one can see how different they were. Typically, the next day, On Kawara would go sight-seeing, taking in an art gallery. Whereas the next day, Bowie was performing again in the same city, or in another city. At best, Bowie got days off while travelling between cities. How did he cope? Cocaine got him from one adrenalin high to another.

From December 74 to April 1975, Bowie was living out of a New York hotel room. It is possible that Bowie crops up on an On Kawara I MET list for February or March, 1975, (possibly under the name 'Steve' which is the name he told me that he liked to use when wanting to remain anonymous in 1998), but I suspect the conceptual artist and the pop musician didn't mingle in the same circles. In April 1975, Bowie moved to L.A., in part to appear in the film
The Man Who Fell to Earth, and his coke habit moved with him. When he pulled the plug on the States altogether, it was in an attempt to ditch a very unhealthy lifestyle. He wanted to get clean. Bowie had a place in Switzerland, which he shared with his first wife, Angie, but it was in Berlin he was to settle from August 1976.

Initially, he was in Berlin to work with Iggy Pop on the making of
The Idiot, which was produced by Tony Visconti. The book Heroes: David Bowie and Berlin, written by Tobias Ruther, tells us that: 'The entry for 21 August 1976 in Eduard Meyer's diary records the first meeting with David Bowie: Hansa Studio 1, Nestostrasse, 1000, Berlin 31.' The Tobias Ruther book is better on Berlin, but a similar volume written by Thomas Jerome Seabrook has a more attractive cover:


To begin with, Bowie stayed in a schloss in Grinewald, called Hotel Gerhus, now called Schlosshotel im Grunewald in that relentlessly logical German way. Because of a very expensive break-up with his ex-manager, Tony de Fries, Bowie had taken it upon himself to save money, so his assistant, Coco Schwab, was tasked with finding a local apartment. Soon Bowie, Iggy and Coco moved into a maze of rooms on the first floor of 155 Hauptstrasse, Schoneberg. Apparently, Bowie liked the rundown, anonymous quality of the social housing blocks and the vestiges of imperial grandeur.

The Idiot was finished, Bowie turned his attention to his own album, Low, which was recorded at Hansa Studios 2 in Kothener Strass near The Wall. When he was not in the studio, working with Brian Eno, he drove around the city in a black Mercedes. On one occasion he pursued down On Kawara's main thoroughfare, Kurfurstendamm, a drug dealer who had cheated on him, ramming the other's car with his solid German-built one. On calmer day, he bought a bike. Having had his breakfast of coffee and Gitanes at the Anderes Ufer, Bowie would cycle down Hauptsrasse in the direction of Hansa Studios on Potsdamer Platz.

In the map below, the blue circles pertain to On Kawara, his two flats and the René Bock Gallery in between them, while the purple circles are places connected with Bowie in Berlin. That's On Kawara's home towards the left edge of the map, Bowie's in the bottom right corner. How far apart? 5.4 km or 3.3 miles. Walkable in an hour. Bikeable in 15 minutes..


The map reminds me that 'Potsdamer Place' and 'KaDeWe' are both mentioned in Bowie's 2013 comeback song 'Where are we now?" Indeed, where are we now? Are we in West Berlin in 1976? - rubbing shoulders with an art crowd centred on the René Block Gallery? The two champagne glass symbols are places David Bowie liked to go for a drink. Bowie was a regular at the restaurant Exil on the Paul-Linke riverbank in Keuzberg (not marked) and at the Paris Bar on Kanstrasse (marked).

It's not marked in the above map, but a bit further south is the Brücke Museum, which houses a huge collection of Expressionist paintings. Bowie was much taken by this collection, and in particular the work by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Otto Mueller and Erich Heckel. One painting by Heckel of Kirchner (middle of the triptych below) inspired both the cover of
The Idiot (Bowie bought the rights to the painting then decided instead to use a similar photo of his friend James Ostenberg, aka Iggy Pop. And commentators have said that the Heroes album, in 1977, is based on the same painting, and I can see the likeness, though it was taken from a shoot where Bowie tried various poses.


In the privacy of his gloomy Berlin flat, Bowie took up painting again. Not that he painted all the time. According to Iggy, who was still kicking around with his pal, their lifestyle was two days of bingeing (usually on alcohol, not on cocaine, that was the whole point of them lying low), two days recovering, and two days of other activities. Let's say Bowie was painting for two days a week then, in between recording assignments.

In the living room, over the settee, Bowie hung up a painting he'd made in the Expressionist style of the Japanese author, Yukio Mishima.

Christian Simonpietri / Sigma. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.

Now, as I say on the
1970 (2) page, Mishima was a colossal cultural figure of Japan in the seventies. He wrote the tetralogy Spring Snow, Runaway Horses, The Temple of Dawn and The Decay of the Angel in 1969 and 1970. And he killed himself by slicing open his stomach and disembowelling himself on November 25, 1970, not long after having finished writing The Decay of the Angel. Now these books are brilliant. I read them one after another, relishing their delicacy, multiple metaphors, emotional power and the mysterious calmness of the ending. Or at least I thought highly of them when I read the four books in 1978, though I haven't read them since to test out the opinions of my 20-year-old self.

But what did On Kawara think of Yukio Mishima? He would certainly have had opinions as Mishima may have been the most important Japanese thinker of post-war times. He came top of his high school class and was awarded a medal from the Emperor for that achievement. He studied law at university. He wrote dozens of novels. His right-wing views in support of traditional spiritual Japanese values and in opposition to American commercial ones were forcefully expressed, though not in his fiction, which was full of subtlety and symbols.

An odd thing is that Mishima's actual surname was Hiraoka, which is the same as Hiroko's. I don't think this means that much. There are 45,000 people in Japan with the surname of Hiraoka. All the same…

How did On Kawara respond to the suicide of Yukio Mishima aka Kimitake Hiraoka? Well, we don't know. On had travelled to Japan on November 14, 1970, and presumably the Japanese papers were full of the atrocious tragedy and all that went along with it (Mishima had a private, unarmed army, and a fellow soldier-friend committed suicide in the same way on the same day). There were no Date Paintings made in Japan in November, 1970. The three Date Paintings made in December 1970 are simply sub-titled with the days of the week in which each was painted. Oh, and they are written in the Esperanto language, not using Japanese characters. I wonder if the suicide could have been part of the reason that On Kawara decided to distance himself from the Japanese alphabet.

It was nearly a year earlier, December 1969, when On Kawara had begun his 'I AM STILL ALIVE' series with the telegram: "I AM NOT GOING TO COMMIT SUICIDE DON'T WORRY.' Followed a few days later by 'I AM NOT GOING TO COMMIT SUICIDE WORRY.' On arriving in Japan on November 14, 1970, On sent a telegram to Hiroko stating 'I AM STILL ALIVE'. There is no way he would have sent such a telegram in December 1970. On the other hand, who was the next 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegram sent to, post-Mishima's death? And how close was it sent to the fateful day? The answer is that in 1971 he sent around 20 telegrams to Klaus Honnef in Munster, so Mishima's death didn't put him off his life's work.

Perhaps the photograph of Bowie lying in front of his painting was influenced by the following painting by
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner which was at the Brücke Museum in 1976, as it is today.


Or at least I say that, because it puts in my mind the idea that Mishima is a mirror-image of Bowie. Well, why not? When I read Yukio Mishima's tetralogy I would have liked to be identified as the brilliant, sensitive author. While David Bowie was notorious for flirting with elitism around this time.


I'm in the middle of painting OCT.9,2021 when I receive a reward for putting so much emphasis on process: a second email from Koichi Ono. I will reproduce it in full for now, and check with him later re permission to do so:

Dear Duncan,

Now I am living in the city Kaminoyama in northeastern Japan, since my retirement from the Art-Uni in Tokyo.

One day in the West Berlin time, I visited the meeting in which Beuys reported on his Blackboard Work, that the Berlin museum had newly purchased. Beuys spoke eagerly about his work, lastly he asked the audience for any questions. An old woman raised her hand and said to him “Would you let me know, why are you always carrying the rucksack on your back?” The atmosphere of the meeting became a bit embarrassed. But Beuys instantly said to her, “Thank you, I have been waiting for this question.”

Beuys never looked down upon people. He treated all people without distinction of whether they had good knowledge of art or not. I think this is the reason why he was so loved by everyone.

I met Dan Graham in the apartment of On Kawara. On mentioned me that he valued the intelligence of Dan Graham. One day Hiroko said smilingly to me, “Just listen Koichi, a few days ago Dan came and said earnestly to me “” Hi Hiroko I found a really delicious food here in West Berlin”” and I say to him ,What is it ?. He said delighted to me “”peanut butter it is!””. Hiroko said to herself “What sort of eating habits did he have in New York?” We found this gap between his intelligence and peanut butter so funny, also lovely.

I saw Roman Opalka in the René Block gallery at the opening of his one man show. I did not know Dimitrijevic. In those days the government of West Germany invited many artists from many different lands in the world on the DAAD scheme and his Berliner Artist Program, and other projects too. I met Samuel Beckett in the private meeting hosted by my friend in West Berlin. But I think the scheme was neither charitable work nor a project that arose only from a pure love of art. It was one of the political, also strategic, projects for keeping the existence of the city of West Berlin, defending it against the attack of being swallowed up by the communist lands. West Berlin was the show window of Western European civilization and culture. The more artists came to West Berlin, the more secure of its own existence West Berlin would be. This project cost a large sum of money, but the West German government had very good reasons for spending that money. Therefore I would think you need not think it was a shame that no-one invited On Kawara into your city.

Now I have to be back at my work in atelier, I will write you again.

With best wishes

This is a marvellous communication. For one thing, it fits in well with some current research, which I'll get to soon enough. First, invigorated by Koichi's generosity, I finish my Date Painting:


Then I write back to him:

Dear Koichi,

Joseph Beuys, Samuel Beckett and On Kawara in a single email - that’s good going!

The Joseph Beuys anecdote is splendid. I think On was loved by people as well. But because he didn’t like to be in groups, or to speak to an audience, it was a smaller group of close friends that knew and loved him. More like Samuel Beckett in that respect. Is that right?

I have been thinking about Dan Graham in Berlin. For the Venice Biennale in 1976 he made the following piece:


What you tell me in your message makes me think the above
Public Space / Two Audiences may have been influenced by having been living in West Berlin for a few months. Imagine, if you will, in the right-hand room are the poor, bored, suppressed East Berliners. In the left-hand room, with the mirror, are the free West Berliners plus Samuel Beckett, On Kawara, you, Hiroko, Dan, Bowie and Joseph Beuys. The East Berliners can see what a great time the people of West Berlin are having with their clever and playful artists: all that mirroring. One of the East Berliners would like to ask why Joseph Beuys is wearing a fishing jacket, and why On Kawara is painting the date, but she can’t ask her questions as the Berlin Wall, though see-through, is sound-insulated!

I understand why you say that it was better that these artists went to West Berlin and not Scotland. And surely it did contribute to the collapse of Soviet Eastern Europe.

Actually, On and Hiroko stopped off at Venice in June of 1976. (The Kawaras were in Berlin for Feb-April, then in New York for May and June, then back to Europe for the rest of the year and until February 1977.) But I don’t think they saw Dan’s work as the Biennale opened on July 25.

I think that when On sent Dan 100+ of the Statue of Liberty postcard in 1970, it was a celebration of the freedom that On, Hiroko and Dan enjoyed in America. When in Berlin, On's postcards to various people say something else. For a start, they are all of West Berlin and not of East Berlin. And there are no postcards of the Reichstag. Presumably because it was closed and so was a sad sight. The most common postcard that On sent was of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church on Kurfurstendamm. Maybe because it represented both survival against the odds and a celebration of the future. How did On travel through West Berlin (and along Kurfurstendamm)? Bus, car, taxi, cycle or foot? Do you know if he ever got permission to go into East Berlin for any reason? Would he have liked to do that?

Was you and Yuri’s relationship with On and Hiroko based on conversation, or was there game-playing as well? I know On and Hiroko played many games in New York including Mah-Jong and ping-pong.

Looking forward to getting another message from you, but only when you have time.

Best wishes,

In the evening of October 9, I am feeling pleased with myself. My first size 'B' Date painting.:



October 10, 2021.
I now get an email from Braco Dimitrijevic, which makes me feel guilty that I did not include him in my fantasy about Dan Graham's Venice piece. Never mind, I can surely make amends for that. Braco has sent me a fairly brief, considered statement:

I met On for the first time in NY at the Sperone Westwater Gallery where I had an exhibition in May, 1975. He joined that gallery sometime shortly after that.

At the time Conceptual artists were a small “brotherhood”, some 35 artists in all, grouped round a very few institutions. In 1972 we had shows at the Konrad Fisher in Dusseldorf a few weeks apart, and shortly after that at Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels.

In 1976 we both were guests of DAAD and stayed in Berlin for a year.

He came to my opening on Sept 4, 1976 at the René Block Gallery. He was a very withdrawn person, never liked a crowd, so I was surprised to see him there.

The day after I went to his place where we played ping-pong. Many times after we played that game. Last time that I remember was in Brussels at the home of our mutual friend and collector, Herman Daled.

So On was at the René Block Gallery on September 4, 1976. That is the day that began with a post-midnight conversation with Koichi and Yuri Ono.
Below is an installation shot from a 2016 show at Daniel Merzona, Berlin, about Braco Dimitrevic's Berlin work of 1976.


At the back of the room is a photo of a casual passer-by who Braco 'MET AT 1.56PM, BERLIN, 1976'. I wonder how many International artists Braco had to let walk by before deciding someone was obscure enough to deserve the title 'casual passer-by'.

The photograph in the foreground is a casual passer-by that 'I MET AT 2.25PM, BERLIN, 1976'. I wonder if this person was walking immediately behind David Bowie and Iggy Pop, dressed in caps so as to obscure their identity, though not enough to fool Braco Dimitrijevic's eye. The random woman's massive portrait was hung from the front of Berlin Art College in 1976, so it's possible that On Kawara was familiar with it from that context.


Though it's the following image that references the René Block Gallery in 1976. So maybe this is the way in which On Kawara encountered the image and the idea. I imagine that Bowie and Iggy are on the street, dressed down in dungarees, taking a vague interest in what's happening. One of their recovery days, perhaps, willing to take in what was happening on the 'ordinary' streets of Berlin.


With this in mind, let me return to what Koichi told me. The importance to West Berlin politicians of funding international artists to come to Berlin.

Let's accept that the Berlin Wall was
a solid wall and not a glass wall that could be seen through. Not even symbolically. (Sorry, Dan.)

So the point of having the brilliant artists in Berlin is for the West Berliners to take note of (Braco's work with random passers-by and places that 'may have historical importance' would surely create interest amongst them). And for an international Western world to take note of. In other words, it was important that West Berlin became this crucible of creativity. The presence of Joseph Beuys, On Kawara, Braco Dimitrijevic, Dan Graham, et al, would have constituted an absolute rock of enlightened Western values, that the West would want to continue to hold onto at all costs. London, New York, Paris,
Berlin. That had to roll off the tongues and pens of Western commentators and journalists. And it worked. When the Berlin Wall fell, Western Germany embraced Berlin, jewel in its crown. And applause ran out in London, New York and Paris. Shortly after that, Eastern Europe crumbled as the Soviet Union shrivelled in on itself.

I think I should talk about Roman Opalka at this point. Partly because he has so much in common with On Kawara. Time was his big idea too. But let's hear from the artist himself:

'The fundamental basis of my work, to which I have dedicated my life, manifests itself in a process of recording a progression that both documents and also defines it. It began on a single date in 1965, the one on which I undertook my first "Detail".'

Opalka's life's work began less than a year before On Kawara's, which began on January 4, 1966.

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

'Each "Detail" is part of a greater idea conceived on that date. My work records the progression to infinity, through the first and last number painted on the canvas.'

As well as bringing to mind Date Painting, there is a link with Kawara's
Million Years Future. A big difference being the method that On Kawara conceived of getting his numbers down in print quickly (through photocopying). Also, On Kawara limited himself to a million. There is a huge difference between a million and infinity. Though in the case of the human life, in terms of years, that difference does not mean anything.

'I inscribe the progression of numbers beginning with one, proceeding to infinity, on canvases of the same size, (196 x 135cm), in white by hand with a paintbrush. Since 1972 I have been making each canvas' background about 1% whiter each time. Thus the moment will arrive when I will paint white on white.'

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

'After each work session in my studio, I take a photograph of my face in front of the "Detail" that I have been working on. Each "detail" is accompanied by a tape recording of my voice saying the numbers out loud as I write them.'

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

Above is a recording made in Berlin in 1976. From a number approaching 2 million to a number just over 2 million. It's a project that was doomed to end in failure. Just as the 'I AM STILL ALIVE' project was. But enough talk of failure. These two artists were living one day at time, one number at a time, and they were doing it in Berlin in 1976. The eyes of the world on Berlin. The eyes of the world intrigued and moved, surely.

Let's return to
Public Space/Two Audiences. Imagine, if you will, in the right-hand room are, as before, the poor, bored, suppressed East Berliners. Their clocks ticking down unregarded: each afternoon takes what seems like a century to pass. In the left-hand room, with the mirror, are the free West Berliners plus Roman Opalka, On Kawara, Dan Graham and Braco Dimitrijevic, not to mention Samuel Beckett, David Bowie and Koichi Ono. The East Berliners can see from the smiles, the dates, the numbers, the casual passers-by, that something is happening, but they don't know what. Meanwhile the printing presses are on fire, radio and TV coverage is 24/7, from one side of the western world to the other: A Dance to the Music of Time. Suddenly a switch is pulled and the East Berliners can hear as well as see what's happening on the other side of the glass wall. Take it away David Bowie, singing to Iggy:

"I, I can remember (I remember)
Standing, by the wall (by the wall)
And the guns, shot above our heads (over our heads)
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall (nothing could fall)
And the
shame, was on the other side
Oh, we can beat them, for ever and ever
Then we could be Heroes, just for one day."


You may have noticed, alert reader, that I've stepped away from a strictly chronological structure of On Kawara's time in Berlin to give space for the contributions of some overlapping individuals, so allow me to get back to the main subject of this essay.

Where had I got too? Well, Braco Dimitrijevic's exhibition at René Block's gallery was on September 4, 1976. Postcards were going out to people, as ever. The black lettering in the table below indicates information extracted from the
On Kawara 1976 Berlin 1986 publication. The green lettering is info that comes from another source:


2 July to 5 Aug
………………………Hanne Darboven 34……………..Harald Szeemann 36

8 Aug to 9 Sept
………………………missing……………………………Albin Uldry 32

Sept to Oct
……………………… Ellie Siegel 30……………………Anton Herbert 33

Albin Uldry was a Bern gallerist and Anton Herbert a Ghent collector, so these were professional connections that On Kawara might be expected to keep alive. However, Ellie Siegel was a young woman who On Kawara had met in Mexico at a busy café, asking if he could share her table. After a long conversation (she was an art teacher) On asked her if he might send her a few postcards. On had been in Mexico City for six months in 1968 and, for a week or two, in 1969, so it must have been seven or eight years later that the postcards were sent.

This info is from a catalogue produced by Larkin Erdmann for a show of postcards (to Angela Westwater and Ellie Siegel) held in Zurich in 2018. An interview with Ellie Siegel ends with her answer to the question: 'What kind of person was On Kawara?' It reads:
'On was outgoing but not pushy in any way. He was very connected in conversation, interested in what the other person was saying. I don't particularly remember a sense of humour, but we talked about art, not politics.'

'What kind of person was On Kawara?' is not a particularly apt question to ask someone who has had exactly one conversation with him. Braco Dimitrijevic has told me On was very withdrawn rather than outgoing. Every social attribute is relative, of course, and a withdrawn person can seem outgoing in the right circumstances. Or vice versa.

On Kawara had only painted nine Date paintings in the first half of the year. However, he got into the swing of it in the second half, painting six in July, seven in August, three in September and eight in October. No consecutive days were painted, instead, two or three unpainted days fell between each picture.

I have
a single I WENT for October. It's not from the On Kawara 1976 Berlin 1986 book, but from On Kawara: Silence, published in 2015. It's the only I WENT chosen from 1976 so I expect it had some significance for the artist, I doubt if On chose maps at random for any of his precious, occasional publications, though that remains a possibility.

October 7, 1976:

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

I can't get much out of this. It looks as if On went apart of the way down Kurfurstendamm and into a large store or hotel there. Then I'm thinking he took a trip through town that ended with him approaching the Tiergarten. At the junction of several roads at that point there is a monument which features on several of the postcards that he sent off in 1976. A walk in the park takes place, then he ended up going into a building that looks like nothing special on Google Maps.


Let's see if we have any more luck in exploring November 2, 1976:

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

Again, I can't get much from going over the route via Google. Why go round the triangular block? Just for morning exercise? He's 'then' gone north, taking him to his one and only stop for the day, on a street called Pestalozzistrasse, not far from the abbreviation 'Sch.' But where did On Kawara enter? Someone's flat?


His destination was in the vicinity of those two blocks of flats on the other side of the road from the blue tack in the very middle of the aerial photo.

Last chance as far as I WENT maps for 1976 are concerned: November 9, 1976:

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

But it's no good. I can't find out anything about this route either. He went somewhere off the north side of Kurfurstendamm. And another place south of Kurfurstendamm. Then into three places right in the middle of West Berlin. This aerial view (below) shows that area. Its the short stretch of road going north-south in the middle of the picture. 'GALERIA (Karstadt) Berlin Kurfurstendamm' is marked on the right-hand side of the road, where On Kawara made two stops, with another stop being on the left side of the road.


Having drawn a blank with these three maps, I adopt desperate measures. Last week I discovered that the only public institution in the world to contain the complete set of I MET that Michele Didier made in conjunction with On Kawara in 2004, is held in the Art Gallery Ontario. Last week, on my request, the Library and Archive there helpfully sent me lists of people who On met in the five-day period covering the first moon landing in July, 1969 (I've added a postscript to that 1969 (2) essay). So that if I now ask them for, say, those dates in 1976 that I have an I WENT map for, then who knows? They might accede to my request. The results just might mean something. In other words:

1 March, 1976
11 March, 1976
13 August 1976
7 October 1976
2 November 1976
9 November 1976

That evening (11 October, 2021), having sent off my library request, my imagination starts to work on the scenario. Soon I have an I MET list, but for which day?


That night I get up from bed to consult Damned to Fame, the Beckett biography written by James Knowlson and published by Bloomsbury in 1996.


I discover that Becket was an occasional visitor to Berlin in his later years. Was he there in 1976, as a 70-year-old? He flew there on August 29 and flew on to London on October 2 without first returning home to Paris. A whole month in Berlin!

Briefly I consider writing again to the Art Gallery Ontario, with the message:
'Oh, and is there any mention of David Bowie (aka David Robert Jones), Iggy Pop (aka James Osterberg) Brian Peter St. John Le Baptiste De La Salle Eno or Samuel Barclay Beckett being met in the month of September, when they were all in Berlin?' But I decide to hold fire on that. Let's see if they respond to my sensible request before asking for more.

I pore over the four relevant pages of the book. Beckett was in Berlin to direct his groundbreaking short plays
Footfalls and That Time. This involved being at the Schiller Theatre, not that far from where he was staying at the Akadamie Der Kunste. He had also agreed to meet with some of the members of an avant garde New York theatre group, Mabou Mines. who were presenting ambitiously staged versions of The Lost Ones and Cascado at the Neue Nationalgalerie. I've marked these sites on the map in green, so they can be seen in conjunction with the On Kawara sites (blue) and the Bowie sites (purple).


See the sleeping figures top right (Samuel Beckett), middle left (On Kawara) bottom right (David Bowie).

Or perhaps not. Picture Bowie not being able to sleep. He wants to talk over the third volume of Yukio Mishima's 'The Sea of Fertility'. He walks to Samual Beckett's room, via Potsdamer Place, a familiar route for him. But when he gets there, Beckett does not answer. That's because he too has been unable to sleep, and he too has gone walkabout. He's tramping along the Kurfurstendamm, hoping to call on On Kawara and ascertain his opinion on
The Temple of Dawn. But he is out of luck, because On Kawara too is out of bed and en route to Schoenberg where he hopes to ask David Bowie his thoughts on, yes, the third volume of 'The Sea of Fertility'… Actually, that doesn't ring quite true. It must be the other way round. Start again…

Bowie is walking north and west towards On Kawara's place. But he's out of luck because On Kawara is heading along the Kurfurstendamm in search of Beckett, taking careful note of his route because he'll have to map it later. Meanwhile, Beckett has left his lodgings and is tramping past Potsdamer Place
en route to the block of flats that Bowie lays his head down at night…. Again that doesn't seem quite right. That they're all carrying copy of the same novel is not the problem. The problem is that the probability of either the older writer or the older artist seeking out the younger musician's opinion seems low.

Still wide awake, I turn back to the Beckett Biography. On 20 September, Beckett was introduced to Morton Feldman, a visiting professor of Music from the State University of New York at Buffalo, at the Schiller Theatre, a somewhat farcical meeting, which was continued more productively in a nearby restaurant, where Beckett only drank beer, during which he wrote the first few lines of a prose poem for the professor.

After reading this, my mind is still too active to go to sleep. So instead I let my thoughts go where they will…

The scene is On Kawara's studio in Berlin. It is a massive space divided into two rooms by a two-way mirror that Dan Graham has installed. There is a ping-pong table and several guests in one room. In the other, through one-way glass, the guests can see a tall, gaunt man standing awkwardly by himself, drinking beer.

Dan: "Who are they?"

On: "Who?"

Dan: "Those young dudes in the caps."

On: "I don't know. I haven't asked them yet."

Dan: "Who is that?"

On: "Samuel Beckett."

Dan: "You're kidding me."

On: "No. Look, he wrote this on the same piece of paper that he spelled his name, It reminds me of
continuity/discontinuity, I think it's the start of a poem."

Dan: "Please read it aloud."

On: "
To and fro in shadow from inner to outer shadow
from impenetrable self to impenetrable unself
by way of neither
as between two lit refuges whose doors once…

Dan: "Oh my God. He's talking about my work. One of the greatest writers of the 20th Century has written a prose poem about Public Space/Two Audiences…He must have come to Berlin straight from Venice…"

On: "Shall I introduce you?"

Dan: "Absolutely not. Have you seen the state of me? I'm covered in peanut butter. It's in my beard. It's in my hair…

On: "In your hair?"

Dan: "Of course, it's in my hair. It's all over my hands so how could it not be in my hair?… Look, this is what I want you to do."

On: "I'm listening."

Dan: "I want you to make out two extra postcards for today."

On: "My postcards for today have already been sent."

Dan: "Didn't you hear what I said? Two
extra postcards. Use that one of the guy with the red shirt that makes him look like Joseph Kosuth, walking endlessly along the perimeter of the Wall like the commie loser he is. Use that, and make the message sides out to me in New York and Samuel Beckett in Paris. You've got Beckett's permanent address haven't you? If not, ask René."

On goes away for five minutes and comes back with two cards and a smile in his eyes.

On: "Now all I need to do is stamp it with my getting up time."

Dan: "So do that."

On: "What time do you want me to say that I got up?"

Dan: "The time you frigging well got up."

On "It was pretty late."

Dan: "He won't mind… How late?"

On: "6.42P.M."

Dan: "Jesus, On. No don't stamp that. He'll throw away the postcard. He must keep it, so that one day the two cards are shown side by side in the Guggenheim."

On: "Sometime between 8 A.M. and 9 A.M.?"

Dan: "Too normal. We don't want him to think you're an accountant."

On: "Elevenish?"

Dan: "Nor a slob."

On: "Well, then?"

Dan: "Oh, for God's sake, On. This is your area of expertise. Don't think about it too much, just frigging well stamp it."

It's Hiroko who posts the cards. Before doing so, she smears both of them with peanut butter. Not so much as you'd notice if you just glanced at either side of the card. But something you'd definitely pick up on if you gave either of the names that the cards were addressed to any considered attention.


After I've written this up on Tuesday, October 12, 2021, and following an after-dinner nap that I am in the habit of making even if my previous night's sleep has been undisturbed, I receive the information requested from Ontario. (Canada, Germany, Japan: my information is coming from the three corners of the earth!)

March 1, 1976
Hiroko Hiraoka
Barbara Richter
Thomas Deecke
Hans-Jürgen Hecht
Jörg Tramm

There is a three-person overlap with the list for April 20, 1976, reprinted near the start of this essay. Hiroko, of course. But also Barbara Richter and Hans-Jurgen Hecht. A little research takes me to a site that mentions the business cards of Barbara Richter and Thomas Deeke, both DAAD. So I reckon they were attached to the German Academic Exchange Service. There is a Jorg Ramm with a Berlin address, Nehringstrasse 33. His email address is Joerg.Tramm@t-online.de which I may follow up. He seems to be something to do with the Berlin film industry, there are photos of him with Isabel Rossellini and Juliet Binoche.

March 11, 1976
Hiroko Hiraoka
Thomas Katz

I can't find out anything about Thomas Katz.

August 13, 1976
Hiroko Hiraoka
Chihiro Shimotani
Bukichi Inoue
Yasu Ohashi
Masako Shimotani

Chihiro Shimotani is a Japanese artist of On Kawara's generation. Materials that he uses for the production of his works often come from nature. He showed in Documenta 6 at Kassel in 1977. He was in Berlin at DAAD's invitation. I can't find out anything about Masako Shimotani. Presumably she is the wife, or other relation, of Chihiro.

Bukichi Inoue was a Japanese artist born in 1930, died 1997. He worked at the interface between sculpture and architecture, as Dan Graham sometimes did.

Yasu Ohashi may have been a teacher in the fields of acting and directing.

Going back to the I WENT of August 13, 1976:

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

This could suggest that both the journey south and the journey east were to the flats of these Japanese visitors. Though I can't help thinking it's more likely they all met up at one venue.

October 7, 1976
Hiroko Hiraoka

November 2, 1976
Hiroko Hiraoka

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

November 9, 1976

Hiroko Hiraoka

So these last three maps that I had difficulty interpreting, those were days spent alone, only meeting Hiroko, whom On lived with. None of them were Date Painting days. What then? I think we might revisit the prose vision of Samuel Beckett:

to and fro in shadow from inner to outer shadow
from impenetrable self to impenetrable unself
by way of neither
as between two lit refuges whose doors, once
neared, gently close, once away turned from
gently part again
beckoned back and forth and turned away
heedless of the way, intent on the one gleam
or the other
unheard footfalls only sound
till at last halt for good, absent for good
from self and other
then no sound
then gently light unfading on that unheeded
unspeakable home


I'm nearly done with 1976. Just November and December to summarise, which I believe I can do quickly. Oh, but first October the 19th, 1976 on the 45th anniversary of that day:

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

Let's start with the postcards. As I've said, most of these are reproduced in the
On Kawara 1976 Berlin 1986 catalogue. Which reveals:


23 Oct - 17 Dec……missing…………………………missing

18 Dec - 13 Jan ……Frank Donegan 26 ………….Jurgen Wesseler 22

I can plug a gap here. The
On Kawara Horizontality/Vericality book reproduces a postcard sent to Richard Pugliese on 9 November 1976. The recipient being a friend from the early days of New York. In fact, he's mentioned in the sub-title of June 18, 1966: "Richard, Ginny, Reeve and Peter came to my studio. We had a hot discussion about art."

Here is 1976's hot statement about Berlin:

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

As for the December cards. Frank Donegan, once again, is the guy who has no biography in the Phaidon volume, couldn't beat On Kawara at ping-pong by his own admission, and described Hiroko as a 'brilliant shadow'. While Jurgen Wesseler was an artist/curator from Bremerhaven, Germany.

Second, the Date Paintings, On, after making eight in October, settled for four in November and three in December. A total of nine 1976 DPs appear in people's homes in the photos taken by Candida Hofer in 2005 and appear in her book, as follows:

11 April, 1976 Liebelt Collection, Hamburg, Germany
31 July, 1976 Hans Bohning Collection, Cologne, Germany
25 September, 1976 Liebelt Collection, Hamburg, Germany
22 October, 1976 Private Collection, Basel, Switzerland
27 October, 1976 Hans Bohning Collection, Cologne, Germany
30 October, 1976 Erste Bak Collection, Vienna, Austria
10 November, 1976 Private Collection, Brussels, Belgium
21 November, 1976 Friedrich Christian Flick Collection, Zurich, Switzerland
22 December, 1976 Liebelt Collection, Hamburg, Germany

No Date Paintings remain in Berlin. But the two collections with more than one 1976 Date Painting are in Germany. And all the other DPs are in countries that share a border with Germany. I suspect this is because there was a show of Date Paintings at Rolf Preisig, gallery, Basel, in October 1977. All of the above-listed paintings except one (21 Nov.1976) were part of that show, and presumably sold.


Not a very good photograph. Nor is the next one, in reproduction, but it shows the finest collection of 1976 Date Paintings in private hands.

Candida Höfer, 2005. Reproducedwith the forbearance of the copyright holder, I hope.

Third, Koichi Ono. I received a third email from him on 18 October, 2021, yesterday. Koichi doesn't recall the ping-pong table at the Kawaras flat, which I asked him about in my last email to him, so maybe it was a piece of furniture that could be folded up and put away. He jokes that he is more of a rocker than I have taken him to be, informing me that he and Yuri went to see
The Man Who Fell to Earth in 1978 or so, in a near-empty cinema in Berlin. This Bowie reference reassures me - if I needed any reassurance, which I don't - that Koichi's sensibilities are in tune with my own. Also, Yuri has reminded him that they saw Iggy Pop in concert, possibly in Nollendorf, in the Schoenberg district of Berlin. And Koichi tosses in that he went to SO36. This was a nightclub in Kreuzberg. Tobias Ruther mentions in his book that when Bowie went there in August 1978, he was taken for a toothpaste rep by some young punks.

This is all very interesting, but it underlines that I haven't yet established a substantial connection between On Kawara and David Bowie. Yes, they were living in the same city for several months, and are likely to have frequented some of the same galleries, restaurants, clubs and streets. But I have nothing concrete. A few days ago I asked Art Gallery Ontario to flick through September's I MET, looking for the names - both real and stage - of Bowie, Iggy and Eno, as well as Samuel Beckett. They have kindly done that for me, but drawn a blank. Oh, well. Back to Koichi's latest email:

'The Work which I made in 1976 is “Writing Over Squares on Canvas”. I put those works on display in my one-man show in the Gallery Folker Skulima in West Berlin from 21.12.1976 until 26.1.1977.' 

On Kawara was in Berlin until mid-February, 1977. So it might be best to leave my consideration of this until the next page.

Koichi adds:
'Now you ask about the Brücke Museum, as far as I remember, On did not tell me about the Museum so I regret I am unable to give you any useful information.'

Which means I must ask Koichi directly if he ever discussed with On Kawara the work and/or life of Yukio Mishima. Or, if no specific conversation can be recalled, what was the attitude of young Japanese intellectuals and artists who had left Japan and become international, when they heard about Mishima's seppuku. And any reply to this fascinating question can surely be worked into the next page.

Another pattern I've noticed is that On Kawara's years often come to a climax in the autumn, and the months of November and December seem to fizzle out. Is that true? Maybe I'm always just tired by the time I've researched my way to the back-end of the year. So I'll leave it there and re-group for 1977, which I'm greatly looking forward to as On will be spending a week in London, a city I know better than any other.


1. Thanks to Koichi Ono and to Braco Dimitrijevic for communicating with me in such useful ways. Although René Block has not replied yet, his initiative in publishing
On Kawara 1976 Berlin 1986 was instrumental in this essay being in any way comprehensive.

2. Thanks to the Reference Desk at Edward P. Taylor Library and Archives at Art Gallery Ontario for consulting the 1976 volume of I MET on my behalf.

3. Thanks to Larkin Erdmann for making the catalogue of his 2018 show of I GOT UP postcards available online.