A rollercoaster read coming up. Three most different and dramatic years awash with surprises. So strap yourself in, though do please note that it may take a paragraph or two to get up to speed. A true rollercoaster doesn't start off at 100mph. It treats its passengers with respect. It starts off by bumbling along, mumbling to itself about numbers and dates.

I suspect that On Kawara took much pleasure from the Chateau d'Oiron commission that involved not just painting a set of twelve Dates, one from each month of 1993, but planning to do so, since the size and the colour of all twelve paintings was consistent from JAN.10 to 17.DEC. I suggest this because the artist repeated that monthly pattern in 1994. I think he repeated it twice. Or at least he came close to doing so. But before I get into that, let's summarise the year in figures:

- January to December: 4, 5, 6, 3, 4, 5, 3, 2, 4, 5, 4, 7. Total 52 Date Paintings.
- Akito, age 16 in April. Sahe, 15 in December.
- Significant periods of Date Painting: none. Except that hidden in the monthly totals of Date Paintings is the suggestion that he was painting two sets of twelve at the rate of one per month.
- New cities. Two.
16MAY.94 in Madrid. 8DEC.1994 in Lille.

I will top and tail '1994' with the two new cities. First, Madrid:

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

One of the 'sets' of monthly paintings was red, size 'A', and it ended up on display at Konrad Fischer in February, 1995.

Courtesy of Konrad Fischer Gallery

Thanks to my magnifying glass, I can say that the Dates appear to be, from right to left:


And that's it.

The December, November and October Dates are confirmed as feasible by On Kawara's 100-Year-Calendar, which further suggests that the September Date is '10' and the August date is '8'.

However, further eyestrain is unnecessary, as the Konrad Fischer Gallery has kindly got back to me with information about the 1995 show contained in a book called
Galerie Mit Bleisliet Fischer.

Courtesy of Konrad Fischer Gallery

It seems that there were sixteen paintings in the show, fourteen of which were illustrated in this book, being the above dozen and the following two:

Courtesy of Konrad Fischer Gallery

However, the detailed listing of sixteen paintings reveals something idiosyncratically interesting. The twelve similar-sized paintings in a row couldn't have been one for each month of 1994, although it very nearly was. I've added six boxes to the listing below, drawing attention to such information that there were two Feb. pics, two June pics, two Oct. pics and two March pics. But both the March pics were size 'B' and so wouldn't have been part of the seemingly solid row of 12 size 'A' Dates.


The 12 size 'A' paintings must have included two Feb. or two June paintings. (There weren't two October paintings, assuming, as I think we can, that the paintings were hung in strict date order.)

When I look through the Dates from 1994 that were photographed in private collections by Candida
Höfer in 2004-2006, I come across the following:

MAR,23,1994 (as seen at the Konrad Fischer Gallery in Dusseldorf in 1995)

What better way to display an On Kawara Date than by juxtaposing it with Andy Warhol prints of Joseph Beuys!

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

1986: Death of Joseph Beuys, 23 January.
1994: Date Painting: MAR.23.
2004: The above photo taken in Zurich on May 26.

Funnily enough, every time Joseph Beuys or Andy Warhol is invoked, I feel a little sad because they are dead. Whereas I don't feel the same way about On Kawara. Our greatest living artist!

26 OKT,1994 (as seen at the Konrad Fischer Gallery in Dusseldorf in 1995)

By 2004, this painting was embellishing the bathroom of the New York flat owned by Colombe Nicholas and Leonard Rosenberg. My crop of Candida
Höfer's photo accidentally omits a large assortment of toiletries at the back of the sink.

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

I'm fairly sure that anyone (say, Andy Warhol or Joseph Beuys) applying make-up or brushing their teeth would be able to see the 26OKT.1994 Date Painting via the mirrored wall in front of them.

As I conduct this exercise I'm trying to keep track of something. By selling these individual Dates in 1995, was Konrad Fischer compromising his chances of selling an exquisite 'set' of 12 monthly Dates? That's to say, 11 size 'A' paintings and one size 'B'. Not so far.

(as seen at the Konrad Fischer Gallery in Dusseldorf in 1995)

This photo was taken by Candida
Höfer in Frankfurt in January 2007. The collection consists of at least three more Date Paintings from 1991 and 1993. I wonder if some of them are stored in the little piece of furniture pictured. I think the size 'A' Date Painting boxes would fit neatly into those drawers.

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

One might well imagine that when a Date Painting was slotted into the back of the windmill's plinth, the arms of the windmill would start to revolve in a clockwise direction…

As we know, energy cannot be created or destroyed, and all the self-discipline and attention to detail and single-mindedness and aesthetic awareness and mastery of minimalism that went into each and every On Kawara Date Painting is surely a sustainable source of carbon-free energy. See, hear, or otherwise sense all the lightbulbs shining and kettles whistling from Frankfurt to Amsterdam…

And still Konrad Fischer held out for a complete 12-month, Date Painting sale. Did he? I wonder. I don't know where these 12 Dates have ended up.

One can see why On Kawara may have been interested in doing a Date Painting for each month of the year. He never missed painting at least one Date in any month from January 1966 onwards. After all a 'month', whether January or December, is related to the 30-day period it takes for the Moon to orbit the earth, and that is integral to the date as expressed by a number of days in a month in a year. The three celestial bodies: Earth, Sun and Moon. The three Rs: Rotation, Revolution and Revolution.

A most interesting piece of information that the Candida
Höfer book offers concerns the second 'set' of monthly dates that On Kawara painted in 1994. The Dates are in a private collection in Hiroshima. The information as to who owns the collection is not given.


All the paintings are black and the same size (size 'A', I think). Below are the January, February and March paintings:

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

Below are the August, September and October Dates:

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

The full list of Dates shown in the Hiroshima double-page is as follows:


Where are the Dates for April to July, inclusive? Perhaps the collection only consists of eight months of 1994. Perhaps the missing months are represented in the collection but weren't available to be photographed by Candida
Höfer. Perhaps the artist-photographer felt that she was doing justice to the collection without having to represent all the Dates.

In any case, the amount of information about 1994 Date Paintings available from the 100-Year-Calendar, the Konrad Fischer Gallery, the Candida
Höfer volume and other published sources is worth summarising. On Kawara painted 52 Dates in 1994, averaging one per week. I have seen reproductions of 34 of them, and have noted the information they give as to where On Kawara was when he painted them. It can be summarised in the following table. Note that I have separated off the Hiroshima collection from the other Candida Höfer data. And, as we've seen, some of the Konrad Fischer Dates also crop up in the Candida Höfer column. Apart from in the first column, a painting with a red background is rendered in red letters.

Screenshot 2022-02-16 at 11.41.58

The 34 paintings that I've seen repros of are as follows. 16 on display at Konrad Fischer; 8 in the collection in Hiroshima; a further 4 in private collections photographed by Candida
Höfer; And a further 6 found in the three catalogues On Kawara: SILENCE, Date Paintings in New York and 136 Other Cities and On Kawara: Whole, and Parts.

Now as the Esperanto language was used when On was in Japan (or, very occasionally, other South Asian countries), one can plot his movements throughout the year. Of course, such an exercise was much easier from 1968 to 1979 when 'I GOT UP AT' postcards were being sent and a daily 'I WENT' map was being compiled.

The table below shows that it was On Kawara's habit to fly from New York across the Pacific to Japan, and vice versa. And to fly from New York across the Atlantic to Europe, and vice versa. Always going back and forth across the world via New York.


The exception to this flight pattern came in October/November where it seems on the face of it that the artist flew direct from Japan over Asia to Europe. However, I am working from knowledge of a sample of 34 out of 52 Date Paintings, and there is a large gap in my data between 26OKT, painted in Esperanto, and 23 NOV, which I'm presuming was painted in Europe, or 29 NOV, which definitely was painted in France. So it's quite possible that there was another New York flight from Japan, then a pause to enjoy New York life, before flying over to Europe for a third time in 1994.

On Kawara had a flat in New York, and a house or flat in Tokyo. As to where the artist was based when in Europe, at this time, that's less easy to say for sure. He may have bought a flat in Paris in 1993. (In any case he did have a flat there by the late '90s.) And there were many places he could have stayed with friends and colleagues in Germany (the K
önigs, The Fischers, etc.). Of the European Dates in 1994, four were painted in Germany, three in France and two in Spain.

In 1994, On Kawara concentrated hard one day per week, on average, and made a Date Painting on these days. That is a meditative, disciplined procedure and would have dominated said days. Then there were the days of travel, which were considerable, and included twelve inter-continental flights of more than 12 hours each. But that left most of the year. He was then free to enjoy Europe in three different seasons, Japan too in three different seasons (where Hiroko, Akito and Sahe would probably have been living when not in New York) and in New York itself, where he spent at least part of most months throughout the year, and where his game-playing friends lived full-time and his family lived part-time. An utterly fantastic and unique lifestyle, I have to say. Though not something that could be enjoyed in 2022 as a result of Global Warming obligations.

However, 1994 was not nearly as ambitious a year as 1993 had been as far as On Kawara exhibitions were concerned. 1993 had seen the
Date Paintings in 89 Cities tour to America. It had seen the monthly, rotating, cumulatively comprehensive display of Date Paintings made since 1966 in New York at the Dia Center in New York. It had seen the monumental wall of randomly located Date Paintings covering each month of a twenty-year period (1973 to 1993) in Bordeaux. Not to mention the smaller show of 12 monthly Dates from 1993 at Chateau d'Oiron.

So On Kawara had been taking it easy in 1994, exhibition-wise. Enjoying his blossoming family, I expect. Enjoying his French and German friends, no doubt. And playing whatever games were on offer amongst his people in New York.

He probably needed the rest that he got in 1994. Besides, there was a very ambitious show - ambitious in a totally new way - being planned for Cologne in 1995. Which is where this essay is going next.

Well, it's going there right after the Date Painting made in Lille. That city just an hour-and-a-half by train north from Paris.

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

'Thanks to Customs, Africa enters the Museum.'

Thanks to On Kawara, Conceptual Art enters the contemporary art gallery, the domestic interior and the mind of the independent researcher.


- January to December: 3, 2, 2, 2, 10, 5, 3, 7, 11, 2, 2, 2. Total 49.

- Akito, aged 17 in April. Sahe 16 in December.
- Significant periods of Date Painting. Eight days in a row in May. Seven days in a row in September.
- Date Painting in new cities: 19 June 1995, Toyonaka; 26 Aug. 1995, Reykjavik; 2 Oct. 1995, Cologne.

I don't know what On Kawara was doing in the first half of the year.
26 FEB.1995 suggest he was in Europe or Japan rather than New York. And I don't know what prompted the Date Painting surge in May, nor where these paintings are now. What I do know about is the August/September activity, which is what I'll be dwelling on shortly.

19JUNE,1995 was painted in Toyonaka, a city of 400,000 people in the middle of Japan. Presumably the DP on June 18th was painted there too, and possibly the one made on the 22nd of June. Anyway…

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

I now have this trick of pointing my smart phone at text in any language, and sending the translation to my computer. So I can suggest that the headline down the right concerns: 'Japanese POWs detained in Mongolia. Official documents revealed.' Russia and North Korea are also mentioned on a front page at least partly concerned with the aftermath of World War 2.

In August, On Kawara was in Cologne for a new Date Painting initiative. Following on from 'Again and Against' he was Date Painting at the same time as
a show of his was on in the city, only this time a feature was being made of these new paintings being part of the show.

In the catalogue,
On Kawara: Whole and Parts, it is difficult to understand what is going on. Partly because On Kawara only uses photos of each show to put across what an exhibition was about. There is no text. For the Cologne show, there is this photo. Alas I cannot make out the dates on the Date Paintings:

Copyright 1996 Les Presses du Réel.

And there is this shot:

Copyright 1996 Les Presses du Réel.

If the photos are of the same room, why is there a door and two radiators in one photo and not the other?

Luckily, the host gallery, Kolnisher Kuntsverien, made a small catalogue in 1997 (two years after the show) and for the last few days it has been edging towards me. Yesterday, it arrived:


The catalogue is now in my hands and (almost) everything makes sense even though the catalogue texts are exclusively in German and Japanese. I point my phone at the German foreword and my phone translates as follows. Forgive the wonder-machine's inadequacies in paras 2 and 4:

Since the 1960s, On Kawara has created what is, in its reduction, the most extreme work of contemporary art and has developed an almost completely anonymous and yet peculiar work. The artist, who is constantly traveling, neither gives interviews nor allows himself to be photographed, never appears at the openings of his exhibitions and gives his biography in living days.

The focus of the Cologne project is exclusively On Kawara's German-language "Date Paintings", which have been created since 1976. For the duration of the exhibition, On Kawara will live and work in Cologne. This gives this exhibition a new dimension and, for the first time, the procedural character according to On Kawara's "Daily Works", updated by recent date images from time to time.

At the same time, the oldest picture will disappear from the exhibition. In this way, the decisive dimensions within his work, the authentic existence and its documentation, enter into a new relationship in which the Cologne project defines the limit of their possible approximation.

In correspondence with the "Date Paintings", the very daily newspapers that were published in On Kawara's place of residence on the respective day and of which the artist otherwise only makes part of his work in excerpts will be available for reading in the exhibition "Newest of the day" awake or call it back to memory. The dimension of time, which On Kawara's work is about, can thus be experienced in concrete terms.

At the same time, the unusual process nature of this exhibition requires the viewer to visit the exhibition several times.

The 1997 catalogue begins with a useful diagram, to which I've added an arrow to orientate the online visitor. In both the photos reproduced above, the camera was pointing in this direction.


Below is double-page from the exquisite little catalogue with very nearly the same photo as in Whole and Parts.

Copyright 1997 Maly-Verlag Köln, Kölnischer Kunstverein, Japanisches Kulturinstitut Köln.

But in this case I can make out that the 14th and 15th Dates are 2 FEB. 1977 and 5.DEZ.1986, which corresponds to the 14th and 15th Dates on the following list.

Copyright 1997 Maly-Verlag Köln, Kölnischer Kunstverein, Japanisches Kulturinstitut Köln.

The exhibition's first state was as above. At all stages of the exhibition there were 24 Date Paintings on display.

As you can see, just over half of the DPs were from On Kawara's Berlin residency, 1976/77. Though several DPs from that time have been omitted. There are also DPs from Dusseldorf and Wien, but not from Frankfurt or Stuttgart. That almost suggests that Udo Kittelmann, the director of the gallery, had links with Konrad Fischer but not Kasper K
önig or the Froelichs. No doubt that is an incorrect deduction. Successful international curators and dealers tend to get on well with each other, as it is in everyone's interests to do so.

Let's cut to the chase. The fascinating thing is that On Kawara was Date Painting 'live' in Cologne. The five most recent paintings had been made just before the opening of the show. Quite tantalising that. You almost think that On Kawara was going to appear at the opening carrying the day's Date Painting. As the riveted audience looked on, he would remove the oldest Date from the wall, move 23 Date Paintings one hook back, and hang the brand new Date on the 24th hook. Spontaneous applause in the white cube! Everyone may be an artist, but On Kawara is
the artist!

Of course, it didn't happen that way. The fact that On Kawara was alive was to be evidenced by his body of work, not his everyday self. But it's interesting that On Kawara introduced the possibility of being present in the gallery, given that he was present in the city.

However, the complicating truth is that On Kawara took the opportunity to take a trip to Reykjavic, Iceland, where he made Date Paintings on the 26th and 27th of August, 1995.

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

Back to the opening of the show in Cologne.

Visitor 1: "On Kawara is in this very room."

Visitor 2: "Actually, all we can say is that he is in Cologne."

Visitor 3: "Ha! - he has flown to Reykjavic."

Visitors 1 and 2: "How do you know that?"

Visitor 3: "The director of the gallery just told me."

On Kawara was back in Cologne in time to paint 3.SEPT.1995, which was installed that same day. Though I imagine the installation was after the gallery had closed to the public. Though I can't help imagining it this way… Gallery closes at 5pm. On Kawara enters. Takes down the earliest Date Painting, 24 MARZ,1976, then moves all the others one peg along, thus creating a gap. On the free peg, he hangs 3SEPT.1995.

If not in quite that manner, the same thing happened on each of the next six days. That is, September 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 all saw a change of date as the oldest painting left the building and a brand new one was installed.

There were further changes to the show, but less frequent after that. So 12 September, 14 September, 23 September, 25 September and 2 October all saw a re-hang, to facilitate the introduction of a new Date and the removal of an old one.

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

Here is the final state of the show.

Copyright 1997 Maly-Verlag Köln, Kölnischer Kunstverein, Japanisches Kulturinstitut Köln.

Times have changed so that no less than 17 of the final 24 Dates were made in Cologne in 1995. It's almost as if the Berlin residency had never been.

The show didn't change from October 2, 1995 until its closure on October 8, 1995. It was in that period that the 'second' photo in
Whole and Parts was taken.

Copyright 1996 Les Presses du Réel.

That photo appears in Whole and Parts but not in the Cologne catalogue. Also in Whole and Parts are two double-page spreads that were taken at the final version of the show.

So the first 15 Dates appear in this spread:

Copyright 1996 Les Presses du Réel.

And the last 9 Dates in the next spread. The quality of the photos in Whole and Parts mean that, with the aid of a magnifying glass, I can confirm the Dates. Including that the one furthest to the right, the 24th Date in the final state of the show, is 2OCT.1995:

Copyright 1996 Les Presses du Réel.

But the funny thing is that the photo on the left of this second spread is of the fire door and two radiators, those features that were't present in the gallery when the show opened, and which crop up in the second of the two installation shots. Why has On Kawara chosen to include this image? The show is called On Kawara: Appear/Disappear, which makes sense given the coming and going of individual Dates. It's almost asking the viewer to picture On Kawara entering and leaving the building. So again his physical presence is invoked. It's somehow disturbing.

Let's recap. At the beginning of the Cologne show, all is normal. A display of Date Paintings that tells us that On Kawara was painting during specific days from 1976 to 1995, and allowing us to infer that he was alive in between those dates.

Later on in the show. What is this? A door in the gallery has been revealed. And the Dates have changed. Old ones have disappeared to be replaced by new ones.The artist is still alive, though he remains unseen. Presumably he goes in and out of the door with the Dates that are being taken away and with their replacements.

I can't leave it at that. Let's take a close look at the door…

Copyright 1996 Les Presses du Réel.

No problem there. I could get in and out of that any time of day or night. The problem, as usual, will be getting the painting done by midnight.

Later I enter the gallery by the fire door and put on the lights. It is late, but not that late, the pubs are still open all over the city.

Now to work. I've calculated that this should only take a few minutes, as all I'm doing is moving 24 small paintings a few metres to the left. The first one has to come down altogether, of course. That's
24 NOV.1976. Then I move 2.FEB.1977 and 5.DEZ.1986 to the left, and I grab 8 MARZ, 1991 from the long wall, hang it at its new place, and I step back to see what we now have on the first short wall.

Good that we're still hanging on to the 1976/77 residency, though only just. Next there's one painting to stand-in for the ten-year anniversary of the residency, when in fact there were six paintings made in December, 1986. Then there's the problem. A problem that's been there since the beginning of the show in August 1995, but has only been brought to my attention by my current initiative.

1989 should be represented by at least two paintings. First, one from January 1989, when On Kawara was in Stuttgart and made a Date Painting five days in a row, twice, One of those sets is now in Chicago, but the other set hangs in Stuttgart and I'm surprised that one of these paintings wasn't borrowed for this important show.

But, worse that that, where is
24APR.1989? That's the painting that On Kawara made in Frankfurt when Kasper König was installing the first leg of 'On Kawara: Again and Against'. That involved curating 24 works by artists with some connection to Frankfurt, and 23 Date Paintings by On Kawara. The missing 24th Date Painting being 24APR.1989 which was being painted in Frankfurt 2 days before the closing of the show. The presence of that significant and mysterious painting would have spoken eloquently to the ambitious vision behind the Cologne show.

But I must get on with it. Each of the 17 paintings left on the long wall must be moved to the left. I take
29.DEZ.1986 and move it to its end spot. Then I am about to get hold of 30.DEZ,1991 and realise that there is a second problem. From start to finish of the exhibition, there were supposed to be three size A paintings in the show, the rest being size B. The size A paintings would have more obviously moved to the left (the firing line) but without ever reaching it. However, there are only two size A paintings, as 30.DEZ.1991, the second Date Painting made in Wein, is size B, whatever it says in the Cologne catalogue.

After getting over this minor hitch, I make quick progress. Perhaps it is apt that the size A paintings were made in Dusseldorf and Wein. These places are not as important to On Kawara's practice as Berlin and Cologne. A small voice inside my head tells me that's nonsense. The enterprise of Konrad Fischer was essential to On Kawara's acceptance as an important artist in the minds of European collectors.

Okay, that's the long wall dealt with, having moved
23.SEPT.1995 from the end wall to the long wall. I now need to move 25.SEPT.1995 a few yards to the left (anti-clockwise one could almost say) and 2.OKT.1995 the same distance in the same direction. And now to place the new Date on the wall. Voila! I step back and take in the scene.


God, that is beautiful. I have to hand it to Udo Kittelmann, he has curated the most marvellous show. But you, dear reader, will be wanting me to step closer to the new Date Painting. Well, I can indeed do that for you.


Five swans on a winter lake!

But, joking aside, what a show! It's just a pity I couldn't really be in Germany, and have had to render 'today' in the English-speaking style. You will be thinking I'm in New York. But, no, Blairgowrie in Scotland is rarely mistaken for the Big Apple.

I say again, WHAT A SHOW! Between the dates of 26 August and 8 October, 1995, we were taken from 24 March 1976 to October 2, 1995. But the show hasn't stopped there. We have now got to 22 February 2022. From 1976 to 1995 was 19 years. From 1995 to 2022 is 26 years. When will this fabulous exhibition end? That is not the question. The show is never-ending. Thank-you, On Kawara!



All right, I mustn't let myself get carried away. Less is more.

1995 postscript
The business about the door has a simple explanation. The second of the photos with a visitor, wearing a beige/orange top, has been flipped on its vertical axis. This is how it should have appeared:


At all stages of the exhibition, the long wall contained 18 Date paintings. 12 before the door (which I have marked on the plan of the show), then the door, then six more.


Yes, that accounts for the illusion of
a door appearing. I suspect On Kawara was annoyed when he saw in the printed edition of Whole and Parts that this flipping had happened. It distracts from what was actually appearing and disappearing. It may even have resulted in the artist successfully persuading Udo Kittelmann to produce a corrective publication in Cologne. That might explain why the 1995 show was commemorated with a 1997 catalogue.


- January tp December: 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 1, 2, 3, 3, 2, 8, 11. Total 40 Date Paintings.
- Akito 18 in April. Sahe 17 in December.
- Significant periods of Date Painting: none. In fact, there were only 11 Date Paintings made in the first six months of the year. By far the least of any six-month period since the beginning of the "Today" series in 1966. And October to December of 1995 had also just produced a total of six paintings at a rate two per month. So what was On doing?

Well, he began the year in New York. He made two Date Paintings in January and then met up with Linda Weintraub, who has contributed this to Karlyn de Jongh's
Unanswered Questions for On Kawara.


On Kawara made two Date Paintings in February, two in March and two in April. It would have been in the middle of April that he phoned Ben Kinmont, who had organised 'The Materialization of Art into Alternative Economies' at Printed Matter in New York City.

On's work in the show was some 'I GOT UP AT' postcards to John Evans, apparently five from March 1968 (though that seems strange as the postcard project only began in June, 1968) and four from September, 1969. Also 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams to various individuals from 1970, 1991 and 1994.

The reason for On's call to Ben was to ask permission to use a sentence that appeared in the 25-page catalogue of the group show in what would become the 700-page catalogue of On's solo show and book, 'Whole and Parts'. This permission was given. And Ben Kinmont's paragraph about this exchange in the tribute section of the Phaidon catalogue of 2002 makes it clear that there was mutual respect between the pair.

The exchange also makes it clear that what On Kawara was doing at this time was putting together this huge catalogue that would have involved him making a large number of decisions.

The book is split into three sections. 'WORKS 1964-1995'; 'TEXTS 1970 - 1995'; and 'EXHIBITIONS 1970 - 1995'. I've been using the third section, consisting purely of photos of installations, in the last two essays I've written, including this one. But now let's see how On Kawara decided to represent his 'WORKS'.

This section covers more than 300 pages and begins with two sequences of photos recording the painting of a Date. That's
6AUG.1992, painted in Tokyo, recorded over 36 pages. And 20FEV.1993 painted in Paris, also recorded over 36 pages. Why these two in particular? Well, I think these are his two studios apart from New York, which had already been documented in the book by Henning Weidemann JUNE9,1991.

After that, there is some pre-1966 work. 8 pages of
Codes from 1965; 21 pages of Drawings that were included in the cardboard box he made to enclose the sketches he made in Paris and New York in 1964; and the significant paintings Location and Title from 1965.

Next comes the 'Today' series. First a reproduction of
JANUARY 25, 1966, which is the tenth Date Painting he made during that first month. There then follows ten pages of photographs On Kawara took in his studio at the end of 1966, which document (in a compelling way) what he achieved in that first year of Date Painting, before they were given boxes and stored away. Then the Date Paintings are represented from 1967 to 1995, one per year, making 29 in all, in conjunction with a corresponding page from 'I READ'.

This is not quite the same as displaying Date Paintings with the newspaper cutting fitted into each Date Painting's cardboard box, after all that had been done throughout the
Date Painting in 89 Cities book which had been published three years before. Instead, you get the following.

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

The '170 B (5)' info is taken from the Journal. In other words this page of 'I READ' corresponded to the Date Painting for NOV.6 1967, being the 170th of the year, the fifth completed in the month of November, size B.

From 1967 to the end of 1972, the majority of subtitles were taken from 'I READ' (rather than the extract from the newspaper placed in the Date Painting's box). On this occasion, NOV.6, 1967, On Kawara took the beginning of the story in column one and appended the beginning of the story in column 4, giving him: 'Communist China hailed today the 50th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution but asserted that the 'center of world revolution' had shifted from Moscow to Peking and in the United States, LeRoi Jones, Negro playwright, was found guilty of illegally possessing weapons during the Newark riots in July.'

Notice that On Kawara writes with a red ballpoint the date of issue of the paper, which is the day after the Date Painting. If you've spent all day painting
NOV.6,1967 and you want to know what happened while you were in the studio that day, it's the paper for the 7th of November that you need to read. Thus for each Date Painting, On Kawara required to buy two newspapers. The one on the day itself, so that he could take an extract from it, bearing the date of the Date Painting, and place it in the box with the painting. And the next day's paper which he would read, to find out what had happened in the world as he'd been painting the date, and to come up with a sub-title for the day's Date Painting.

Two of the days that On Kawara selected in this section are blank. On Kawara read nothing about
2JAN.1971. This was on his first return visit to the Japan that he had left years before. And so the sub-title of the day was simply the day "2 JAN.1971"

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

21 July 1989 got the same treatment. What did On Kawara have against Japanese newspapers? Perhaps he blamed them for Japanese imperialist values which had caused the nation to go to war with the United States in his childhood.

A third 'I READ' corresponds with a Date Painting made in Japan in this section. It's on the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

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

By pointing my phone at this text, I'm told that the headlines say'JAPAN 100 factory inspection' target along the top. Then 'Chemical Weapons Convention, general agreement' down the right side. 'Strict control of dyes and pesticides' is mentioned. So perhaps that is all speaking of progress of sorts.

Another reason why On Kawara would have chosen to display a Date Painting from each year, 1967 to 1995, with the 'corresponding 'I READ' page, was that he stopped doing 'I READ' after 1995. The following is the one he chose to represent the final year, when he was in Reykjavik. Does that imply he could read Icelandic? Perhaps he got someone to translate these bits of the paper for him.

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

The next section of 'WORKS' to be represented in Whole and Parts was 'I WENT'. For this, On selected 22 maps. 2 for 1968, 3 for 1969, 1 for 1970, 1 for 1971, 1 for 1972, 6 for 1973, 3 for 1974 and 1 each for 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979. Why a few more for 1973? I don't know. They were not the same maps that had been reproduced in On Kawara: One Year's Production.

The next section seems out of place. It is headed '18 PARIS IV.70'. A page of text explaining the set-up for an exhibition is followed by the three telegrams that On Kawara made for it, beginning with 'I AM NOT GOING TO COMMIT SUICIDE DON'T WORRY'. That leads straight into 'I GOT UP 1971', being 15 pages of postcards to Roger Mazarguil, the Frenchman who ran a restaurant in Paris called 'Georges'. That is followed by an 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegram for each year from 1970 to 1995, 26 in all. But why not lead straight from the telegrams to the Paris gallery in 1970 into the 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams? Why put the 'I GOT UP AT' batch of postcards in between? True, the initial telegrams were sent on December 5, 8 and 11, 1970. And it was only on January 20 of 1971 that the first 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegram was sent to Herbert and Dorothy Vogel. That's a gap of about a month. So perhaps On Kawara wanted to commemorate that gap with a batch of postcards. And why not make it postcards to Roger, his restaurant being one of the reasons that On had chosen to buy a flat in Paris!

This is followed by 'I MET'. The choice being a page per day for the whole of July, 1968. This doesn't give much away. On was in Mexico at the time. No Hiroko, No Kasper, no New York friends. No art world people. A safe choice? Either that or I just haven't spotted what makes it special.

This is followed by a 100-Year-Calendar which goes over a double-page spread. It's called
18,864 Days and was completed up to August 16, 1984. On Kawara usually stated the number of days that he'd lived up until the opening of show and he had two shows in 12974, one in Antwerp and one in Tokyo, so perhaps this calendar appeared in one of them.

Next comes
One Million Years Past. The cover of the first volume is reproduced, as are three opening title pages, then pages 1; 100 and 101; 300 and 301; 500 and 501; and so on until 1900 and 1901, which is followed by a final page of 2001. 22 pages in all to cover 1,000,000 years. An 11,000 year sample. One Million Years Future is rendered in exactly the same way. A 26-page section in all.

So there you have it. 'WORKS'. A part-objective, part-subjective, totally original way of presenting On Kawara's art from 1964 to 1995.

Meanwhile, I've written to Linda Weintraub, and she has replied as follows:

Dear Duncan,

Your email was no less surprising than if a postcard from On Kawara arrived in my mailbox! I wish I could tell you that your note opened a flood of vivid recollections. Regrettably, my memory has dimmed over the intervening decades. I recall the ordeal of securing an interview. The gallery was extremely protective, and intent on protecting Kawara from interactions that would not be meaningful for him. Over time, my earnest appeal and evidence of my professional credentials allowed me access. Yes, we met in the Lucky Strike. I never asked questions. In fact, I barely spoke. His first words were to instruct me to put away my pad and pen. He would not allow me to take notes. Instead, I was to listen. And listen I did. I summoned the full extent of my attention span and memory capacity. The meeting lasted hours. Throughout, Kawara delivered a non-stop, coolly-delivered, brilliantly-articulated oration on profound truths of time and place and the universe for an audience of one….just me!

It was a rare experience, and a supreme privilege. He demonstrated why reminders that On Kawara was alive mattered so much more than an ordinary person’s life-record. His ‘being’ qualified them as fine art.

I recently moved. Cartons of old files were discarded in the process, including my original records of exchanges with him. Nonetheless, I promise I will try to recall the content of his discourse.

Please keep me informed about your research. I am delighted that his significance is being attended to by you.


I reply more or less straight away:

Thanks, Linda. Especially for your first and last sentences!

Well done indeed for achieving that rare interview. No doubt the gallery, or On himself, was impressed by your perspicacity as well as your professionalism.

I’ve been told by Jonathan Watkins, who knew OK from 1997, that the exhibition put on by Ikon (UK) in 2002 and which toured the world, was conceived by the artist. On chose all the texts in the accompanying catalogue. Before I knew that, I found them an eclectic and pretentious bunch, perhaps because I found them hard to understand, but that privileged insight told me that I must take them seriously. I outline those texts in this essay:
onkawara.co.uk/styled-33/ Perhaps you will find there is a connection between what he summoned up for you in the Lucky Strike and what he wanted to say to a larger audience.

Two months after he spoke to you, he phoned Ben Kinmont and asked for permission to use the following sentence on the cover of his ‘Whole and Parts’ catalogue, which came out towards the end of 1996: ‘It’s always while looking at the part that the whole seems to be moving.’ I wonder if it might be worth bearing this in mind as you kindly and generously try and recall the content of On’s discourse. In other words, authentic detail can be as useful as overview. Was he smoking while he talked? Did he mention how well he knew lower Manhattan having lived and worked in it for three decades by then? Did he mention the part Hiroko played in his working life, or how having children - who were 17 and 18 years old by 1996 - had affected his life’s work?

Some people who met On found him very reserved. Obviously he only opened up if he felt there was a chance he would find a comprehending ear.

I suspect On would have found it amusing to imagine that there might be a 26-year gap between him telling you something and that something making its way out into the world!

What time did you get up this morning? I got up at 9AM having read your email in the middle of the night and having lain awake for a while contemplating it.

Best wishes,

While I wait for any response, let's consider the second part of Whole and Parts, that is 'TEXTS: 1970 to 1995'. These can be summarised as follows. It should be noted that each text is reproduced in the language it was first written in. I've put those texts that can be read in English (either because they're written in English or can be found in translation in another book), in red.


Please note the 'Japanese' column. These are not available in translation. This decision meant that when On Kawara: Whole and Parts was published, the artist was keeping apart his English-speaking and European audience, which had been growing since the sixties, and his Japanese audience, which had (with one notable exception) only begun when he'd started to spend part of his life in Japan from the beginning of the eighties.

However, a smart phone will give a rough translation of these Japanese texts, and so I have been able to gain an impression of their tone and content. It is perhaps an obvious thing that the Japanese would approach On Kawara in a different way to Westerners. With more warmth, because On Kawara was a fellow-countryman. With more admiration, for the same reason. And with more curiosity. He was one of the family, after all.

I shouldn't try and make too much of this. The list of 11 Japanese texts does contain a lot of art criticism closely related to what had been written by English and European art critics. But the list of 11 also contains two texts that are decidedly personal in their approach. These I want to investigate in this essay, though I hope to come back to the art criticism at an appropriate time.

So let us get specific, beginning with Katsusuke Miyauchi, who in a novel published in Japanese, called his protagonist Jiro Sahara. So it's Jiro who addresses us in this scene, which is what On Kawara arranged to have published in
Whole and Parts:

When I finally drifted south of the desert from the Arizona border to Mexico city, I met a human at a cheap hotel at the end of the field. The encounter was more accurate and appropriate to express in this way… At a point on Earth, about 19 degrees and 40 minutes north, latitude, and 99 degrees 10 minutes west, longitude, I met an alien-like earthling. When I entered the small stone room, a gray-painted canvas-like thing was placed on the table. The date was drawn on the surface in white Spanish: 'APRIL 6, 1968'.

The time of one revolution of the Earth was named “April 6, 1968” and was written on the canvas. That was the day of my first enounter with On Kawara. “It’s painting,” he said. The pronounciation of ing, which makes the verb the present progressive tense, was emphasised. “It’s a never-ending game, because you can enjoy it until you die,” he laughed shyly. From that day on, I had to take a closer look at his strange days. He spent six to seven hours a day painting the date in fine accurate Gothic script. Day after day, he just repeated the work. Then more than 50 days passed. On 30 MAYO, 1968, and the day he was painting, I left Mexico City and headed north into the desert towards America. One day about 120 days later, a picture postcard arrived from Colombia in South America to me in Los Angeles. On the reverse side it was written with a rubber stamp as follows:


Picture postcards were also sent one after another from Ecuador and Peru. A rubber stamp for the wake-up time of the day on any postcard it was written in. And then I lost contact. We met again nearly 400 days after Mexico when I visited his apartment in East Village, New York. There was a canvas on the table that wasn’t dry yet, and the date of the day was about to be drawn. The wall had his 100-year calendar on it. White paper was piled up on another table, and on that paper:

B.C. 998,029 B.C.998,028 B.C. 998,027

The years B.C. were continued with a typewriter. “It’s a million-year period. I started with the intention of making one book, but even if I type in 500 years per page, I end up with 2000 pages. The history of mankind begins around the last tenth of the 2000,” he said. One million years…It was only one million times of the earth revolving around the sun.

His daily life in New York was no different from when in Mexico. When he woke up, he mailed a picture postcard of I GOT UP. Then spent 6 or 7 hours drawing the date, continued to hit the million-year work with a typewriter. From time to time, he responded to requests for works, and as a personal communication, with a telegram that read: ‘I AM STILL ALIVE ON KAWARA.’ And before going to sleep, he erased the date of the day from his 100-year-calendar with a diagonal line.

One day, I was able to see the total amount of work on the date he had been making for the last seven years. It had already reached the quantity of a thousand and several hundred paintings. In a dark warehouse seeing the plethora of dates, I was reminded of a famous astronomer who had been transmitting messages into space for years…

After four years of living in the United States, I set out for India. From the deserts of the Middle East I was washed ashore in the holy city of Benares, India. Well, I was spending every day watching the cremation scene on the banks of the Ganges. When I saw about 200 corpses burning and disappearing from the world, I whimsically wrote a picture postcard with the current position as “25 degrees 35 minutes north, 81 degrees 58 minutes East”. I sent it to New York. Five days later, a telegram was returned. The telegram said: ‘I AM STILL ALIVE ON KAWARA.’

February, 1972

That doesn't tell us anything about On Kawara that we didn't know. However, the comradeship is new. One fellow traveller, in self-exile from Japan, meets another in the same position. Of course, they would make the effort to communicate with each other.

By 1980, the text had expanded into an autobiographical novel, whose title translates as
Away from the Light of Greenwich, though the book wasn't translated into English. Katsusuke Miyauchi has gone on to be a noted Japanese author and peace activist, much of his life's work dealing with gurus of one sort or another.

I must rush on to the second example. A text written by Haruomi Hosono, 'I think I have no time', which first appeared in a catalogue in Tokyo in October 1983, to accompany a gallery showing of
One Million Years. I'll take the liberty of transcribing it once I've set the scene.

Who is Haruomi Hosono? He was a founder member of Yellow Magic Orchestra which was an influential - indeed, world-famous - Japanese band from the late Seventies onwards. One of their hits, their theme song, was 'You've Got Telegraph', and I think it was this that prompted On Kawara to get in touch. There is a website that presents Haruomi Hosono's engagement with the world in 1983, also available in computer-translated English, and it's from this that I've taken a couple of Screen Saves. In what follows '19' and '62' refer to sources. Unfortunately, the list of sources at the end of the webpage is not complete, and both 19 and 62 are missing. So I can't follow them up. However, the text itself is fascinating as it stands:


This tells us that On Kawara introduced himself to Haruomi by sending him a telegram. Clearly, they then got into conversation and On Kawara would seem to have introduced himself in a way that he wouldn't have done to a westerner. More down to earth.

Glitches in the translation must account for the statement that a Date Painting took several days to complete.

Date Painting unto death is a 'joke' that On Kawara also made to
Katsusuke Miyauchi.

'I don't know how to eat it.' Yes, that is a mystery line.

Back to the site:


Clearly, Haroumi Hosono was impressed with this artist who had contacted him out of the blue. The end of the quote suggests he may have seen a Date Painting in progress. In which case it would have been
7JULY,1983 or 17JULY,1983 as these were the only Dates painted that month. Did On describe the beauty of the Kii Peninsula to Haroumi? That's close to certain Japanese cities that On made Date Paintings in.

OK there is one more para:


There are some stunning sentences in that. Perhaps it's how Edward Lear wrote his nonsense verse.

I think 'Mr. Wen' is 'Mr On.' I must have moved the camera.

'You can't do it until you pass it once and throw it all away.' Is that On Kawara talking about his pre-New York art career?

I may be wrong, but I think On Kawara is admitting his fascination with Carlos Castaneda. The American writer wrote a series of books that purport to describe training in shamanism that he received under the tutelage of a Yaqui 'Man of Knowledge' named Don Juan. Castaneda gave a high profile interview for Time in 1973 and then retired from public view for twenty years.

'I'm the kind of person who shows me how to live.' Is that On talking about himself?

Here I must mention something more about Haroumi Hosono. In that same 1983, his co-founder of YMO, Ryiuchi Sakamoto, appeared with David Bowie in Merry Christmas, Mister Lawrence, and contributed the most sublime piece of music to it. To promote the film, Sakomoto, Haroumi and the other members of YMO met Bowie on a Japanese chat show. So it seems that David Bowie and On Kawara were both in Berlin in 1977. And they were both in Tokyo in 1983 where they were introduced to the same man, Haroumi Hosono. As readers of this website will know, the music of David Bowie has touched me to the core, and so he is with me in this exploration of On Kawara, who also hits the spot.


There was a lot of 'looking thoughtful' going on during the 'chat', as there was so much translation having to be done. That's David Bowie, second from left, and Haroumi Hosono on the right.


Are we ready for Haroumi's text now? As selected by On Kawara for Whole and Parts twelve years after its first appearance in a catalogue published by Galerei Watari, Tokyo? I think we are. First, in Japanese. I hope, dear reader, you've got Ryiuchi Sakamoto's Merry Christmas, Mister Lawrence playing in the background:

Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Haroumi Hosono.

And now in English, courtesy of some anonymous algorithm:

Haruomi Hosono:

I don’t think I have time. I think it will be the same for those who are alive now and those who are just born. There is a limit to what I have to say. In other words, there is. So the body knows its limits. The body cannot think about a million years ahead. It is promised to hit. I don’t know the future. Instead of feeling a million years, the body can stick the time of one hour, one day, one year. People have a birthday and feel the significance of having one year. I also got one year older the other day. And I know I’m getting closer to my body. Thus, my time-bound body wonders what to do in a limited amount of time. I think about it day after day. It is a thought synthesised by Toisagiyo. In this way, the mind that thinks about the body is mysterious. One hour, one day, one year. You may feel a million hours in your mind. Right now, my heart is basically 20 years. I think it’s got another 20 years. This is consistent with the physical time left for me, but it is more modern that it is dominated by the body time of the earth. The mind knows that once the quota of the last twenty years is overcome, the rest is endless. The mind is dominated by the body, but in reality it is free. I’m just dating. I feel a million years in a moment when I forget about my physical body. It’s in a dream. I was dreaming. It is also a cube of rock that was secretly installed in a deep and narrow hole. Although such a single thing, the rock has withstood millions of years, or even hundreds of millions of years. Hundreds of millions of years of time flow in a dream. However, the image does not change. Through this dream, I felt a great amount of time that my body did not know. Once you know it, you can evoke that sensation even during the day when your body is awake. It revives this feeling when it comes into contact with art. The same is true when looking at voltage works. This is similar to gravity. A tremendous amount of time resembles a great evil. That means sometimes its heavy.

1 sec. = x mng

A person is being pulled by the force of gravity and is falling. Now that is acceleration. I can’t sense the moment too quickly. Therefore it is a voice to record now. I don’t have time anymore.

Although the translation may have introduced the odd bit of codswallop into the text, it still has something. For example, the mind only being slave to the body for as long as the body exists (if only). For another thing, the age of a cube of rock.

A million years becomes a hundred million years becomes what? Well, why not 14 billion years, as that's just a bit older than the universe is said to be?

Is that a long time? It is nothing! It used to be thought, when the Bible was taken literally, that the universe had been around since God made it a few thousand years ago, for Adam and Eve. That seems ridiculous to the modern mind. However, just as outlandish is the idea that, prior to 14 billion years ago, there was NOTHING. What about 14 trillion years ago?

14 billion years is 14,000,000,000 years. What about 14,000,000,000,000 years ago? What about 14,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years ago?

Me: "Why is there something rather than nothing?"

Scientist: "Oh, there's something
now all right, but go back 14 billion years and you'll see there was nothing."

Me: "You have got to be joking!"

To illustrate just how short a time the so-called universe has been around, let's create an installation, inspired by
Million Years Past.

In that work, there are ten volumes, each volume having 200 pages, each page consisting of 500 years. 10 x 200 x 500 = 1,000,000.

Here is an image of Million Years, taken from the Whole and Parts book. A photograph of the installation that Harouni Hosono saw and wrote the essay for.

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

Now what we need is a town of 14,000 homes. On the dining room table of each home we instal the ten
Million Years volumes, as above. That would give us your 14 billion years. The age of the universe!

Or take a town with a population of 140,000. Dundee, near me in Blairgowrie, would fit the bill. Or Kariya, where On Kawara was born. That would do just as well. And you give each man and woman and child in the town
a single volume of Million Years, and you ask them to look up at the stars.

And both these installations represent the age of the universe in years.

What came before our universe? Millions of other universes, if you ask me. That is so obvious.

The numbers could be so much bigger. Look: 14,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000 years.

Everything is relative. Just think, at 64 years and 146 days, I'm almost as old as the universe. And you, dear reader, are too.

Let's tabulate that:

Our age: 16-90 years.

The universe's age: 14,000,000,000 years.

A bigger number: 14,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years

Thank-you Haroumi Hosono. Thank-you On Kawara. Thank-you, St. Andrews' University Library.
Merry Christmas, Mister Lawrence.