FINAL



INTRO

The last three chapters of this site concern themselves largely with single shows of On Kawara's work. In 2008 it was '10 Tableaux and 16,952 Pages', which was shown at Dallas Museum of Art. For the penultimate chapter it was 'Date Painting in New York and 136 Other Cities', held at David Zwirner, New York, in 2012. And in this chapter the show to be dealt with is 'SILENCE', held at the Guggenheim Museum, again in New York, in 2015. If On Kawara was practicing his art on a daily basis back in 1966, by this late stage in his career his energies were going into conceiving shows of the art he'd created over nearly fifty years of committed practice.

These three shows have all been commemorated with large, splendidly illustrated books devoted to them. In the image below, they are
10 Tableaux and 16,952 Pages, Date Painting in New York and 136 Other Cities and SILENCE. No surpises about the titles, then. No attempt to do anything too ambitious with the covers, either.

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Interestingly, none of the books have attempted to recreate the experience of attending the show. This will be because it was important for the book to be available for the opening of each exhibition. But it means that installation shots were not included in the publications. For the show in Dallas, and the one now under consideration at the Guggenheim, I've seen it as part of my job to recreate what was on offer inside these great buildings. This has only been possible due to the excellent sets of photographs taken of the work
in situ and placed on the Dallas Museum of Art website and the Guggenheim account at Flickr, respectively.

But my first port of call has been the three well-resourced books. The
SILENCE volume comes in a black, blue or red linen cover. It is highly recommended for anyone pursuing an interest in On Kawara, indeed all three of the books are. (I don't mean the three colours, I mean the three different titles!)

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The title page of
SILENCE credits 'Jeffrey Weiss with Anne Wheeler'. This is entirely appropriate, but the creative intelligence behind the project, behind all three projects (I'm not going to name them again) was On Kawara, who died in summer, 2014. Is it too late to exchange my copy of SILENCE for a black one?

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ONE

As I suggest in the intro, the last three years of On Kawara's professional life were dominated by the planning of 'SILENCE' at the Guggenheim. So that's what I'm going to explore primarily in this essay. Does that sound a bit dry? Stick with it, dear reader, those of you with a thirst for life will not be disappointed.

The assistant curator of that exhibition, Anne Wheeler, was interviewed by Sarah Zabrodski about the organising of 'SILENCE':


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A map of a park? Probably not Central Park then, even though the Guggenheim (marked in the map below with a red circle containing a palette) was adjacent to that:

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The closest park to the Kawara household at 140 Greene Street (marked in the map below with a red circle containing a bed) was Washington Square Park. So maybe it was there that a meeting with the Guggenheim curators happened.

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Let's get back to the interview with Anne Wheeler, who is in a position to give us unique insights into the curators' interaction with the artist:


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I'll come back to Anne Wheeler's perspective later, because, as she says, she didn't meet On Kawara until April 2013. But I wanted you, dear reader, to note the bit about models and maquettes at this stage.

Over to Jefrey Weiss's introduction to the catalogue, in which he writes:

'This exhibition marks the first full museum overview of the work produced by On Kawara after 1963.'

That's true, though in a specific sense, since as early as 1980 there had been a museum overview of the artist's work after 1966. But then On Kawara had produced a lot of Date Paintings since 1980.

'It has been organised in close collaboration with the artist, who proposed most of the sections that comprise the final structure of the show.'

One could say that since 1980, On Kawara had been putting more effort and imagination into his shows than the individual pieces of art. Though that's arguable.

I guess the structure of the exhibition was agreed on between October 2011 and April, 2012, as mentioned above by Anne Wheeler. Of course, On Kawara had long been aware of the Guggenheim. He was part of the Guggenheim International Exhibition of 1971, and he selected postcards of the Guggenheim on several occasions that year, including this one in 1971:

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He also used a postcard of the Guggenheim in 1974, amongst other occasions from 1968 to 1979.


The exhibition planned for 2015 was to consist of fourteen sections, five of which were selections of Date Paintings. Think of the photographs that follow, which were taken in 2015, as the models and maquettes seen by On Kawara in 2012, as the exhibition layout was discussed in a New York park.

The exhibition was to begin in a room that contained Drawings made in Paris and New York in 1964. As Jeffrey Weiss tells us, these were precursors of what was to come. Drawings of, for example, boxes, a self-addressed envelope and a calendar.

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Museum. Photograph by David Heald.


Also in the opening room was to be the 1965 triptych
Title, which, according to Anne Wheeler, Jeffrey Weiss bought for the National Gallery of Art back in 2005. This is one of only two works made in 1965 that On Kawara didn't destroy. The other was Location, which was also in this first room of 'SILENCE' along with the very first Date Painting, JAN.4,1966. Though neither of these works can be seen in the above picture.

I cannot see
Title without reading it as: 'ONE THING…….1945…….JAPAN'.

A reminder, dear reader. We are in a New York park in 2012 with On Kawara, a frail and elderly man battling lung cancer. We are looking at a model of the Guggenheim, filled with maquettes of Date Paintings. And now we are about to walk up the ramp and into the substance of the planned exhibition…

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Museum. Photograph by David Heald.


The first two levels of the Guggenheim spiral floor were to be taken up with the 69 dates that On Kawara painted at the beginning of 1970. About 30 of them had been displayed as On Kawara's contribution to the Guggenheim International Exhibition of 1971. As the next image shows…

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In 1971, the images moved clockwise, from left to right. But in the 2015 show, the earliest paintings were to be the first that the visitor came to as he/she moved up the ramp in an anticlockwise spiral.

This shot illustrates why Jeffrey Weiss wanted to show On Kawara at the Guggenheim. The long ascending ramp was ideal for showing essentially chronological work.

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Museum. Photograph by David Heald.


As a visitor, one moves up the ramp. After January 1, 1970 comes January 2, 1970, and so on. Day following day.

Indeed, one of the options for the show would have been to show the 48-year stream of Date paintings in order, as many of the 3000-odd as was practical to include. But such a curatorial approach, if it was ever considered, was not chosen. Jeffrey Weiss wanted to show the breadth of On Kawara's work, not just its length, as it were. Date Paintings, yes, but not
just Date Paintings.

This Jan-March 1970 sequence of 97 Date Paintings was what the 1977 show at the Pompidou Centre in Paris consisted of. As we'll see, the Guggenheim exhibition referenced or reprised many of On Kawara's earlier exhibitions.

The above image shows that the first two levels were to contain what was given (by On Kawara) the title, 'Everyday Meditation', and hints that ramp three consisted of the three 'Self-Observation' series that ran from 1968 to 1979. That is, volumes of 'I WENT' were to be displayed in vitrines. Volumes of 'I MET' to be similarly displayed. And 'I GOT UP' postcards were to be hung in huge transparent sheets from the ceiling. In some ways, the postcards would be the most visually enticing aspect of the whole show. That's something I'll come back to. Suffice to say at this stage that there had been no postcard presence in Dallas or at the Date Paintings home-and-away show.

Each hanging contained about a hundred postcards, and these were hung in sets of four, as you can just about see at the top of the photo above. Anne Wheeler tells us that the museum was able to call back about 1500 'I GOT UP' postcards. No doubt this was a lot fewer than was shown in Stockholm back in 1980 as part of 'On Kawara: continuity/discontinuity'. But it may have been the first time that such a call-back had been made for a display in an American gallery, so would have been worth it for that reason alone.

A second main reason that Jeffrey Weiss wanted to show On Kawara at the Guggenheim concerned transparency. The open-plan nature of the architecture created a number of places from where the visitor could see the various series, and establish the connections between them.


On the next floor up, floor four, though it should be borne in mind that we are talking about progress up a continuous ramp, was to be found some work categorised as
Codes, which was (it seems) to be hung on the walls of three bays. Glimpsed on the right of the photo below are a dozen Date Paintings called Twelve Sunday paintings from Today (1966-2013),1966-1998. These were arranged in two rows of six in the Guggenheim, but as four rows of three in the catalogue. In each case, the paintings are laid out chronologically from the earliest, OCT.9,1966 to the latest, MAR.22,1998. It is not immediately apparent, but the main point of the work is to have a painting from each of the twelve months of the year, with a supplementary point being to show how the font of the characters evolved over time.

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Also on this fourth level, just beyond the left edge of the above photo, was Pure Consciousness, the seven 1997 paintings that were repeatedly installed in kindergartens.

Below is an alternative shot of the fourth floor from the opposite end. Beyond the
Twelve Sunday Paintings is what I take to be 'I READ'. And in the foreground (in curved vitrines) would seem to be either Million Years Past or Million Years Future. Thinking about it, I imagine that it was Million Years Past, as that work was made a few years before the companion piece.

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Museum. Photograph by David Heald.

Out of shot in the above pic, roughly where the photographer was standing, was planned to be a vitrine filled with the 'Journals' from 1966 to 2013, those essential, annual records of Date Painting.

On the next floor up, the fifth, were to be the three moon landing paintings, taking up a bay each.
This would echo the Dallas show, though it doesn't add to it. Perhaps they were there to acknowledge the importance of July 1969 in the development of cosmic consciousness in the mind of the artist. A high-point in his painting career and his inner life.

These three huge paintings, like those of
Pure Consciousness and Twelve Sundays, would be read from left to right, clockwise, in contrast to the first two floors of Date Paintings taking us through the first three months of 1970.

Jeffrey Weiss: "Are we of one mind when it comes to this clockwise and anticlockwise thing?"

On Kawara: "I think so. Though Beckett would have taken pleasure in using the term 'withershins'"


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What else was to be installed on the 'fifth' 'level'? The photo below suggests that MILLION YEARS FUTURE was to be here (on the left) as well as 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams (on the right) which were to cover several bays. About 900 of these were sent over 30 years from 1970 to 2000. In other words they started soon after the 'Self-Observation' series but went on for decades after the postcards etc. stopped. The show is essentially chronological, but not strictly so. It would have been possible to split the telegrams over floors three, four and five. Indeed, I can't be sure that this didn't happen. I only have so many 'models and maquettes' to build up the picture.

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On the top level was to be another long sequence of Date Paintings, going clockwise round the space, to complement the 97 that were to take up the first two floors. These are
48 Years, being one Date Painting from each year, 1966 to 2013.

As you can see from the image below, these would vary considerably in size and colour. In these ways they differed from the set of 38 that were first shown at the Ikon and travelled to many places, clockwise round the world, ending up back at the Ikon four years later and with another four Dates in tow, making 42 in all.

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Museum. Photograph by David Heald.

Those at the Ikon were a set of exclusively Sunday paintings, whereas the 48 to be installed at the Guggenheim were not specific to a single day of the week. However, ten of them were to be Sundays. And of these ten, six were also part of the 2002-2006 tour. I feel this is statistically significant, and should have an explanation. I mean, given that there are 52 Sundays in a year, so one would expect there to be no overlap, or perhaps just one or two paintings common to both lists.

The total number of Date Paintings to be included in the show was 97 + 48 + 12 + 7 + 3 = 167. Is that a lot? Given that On Kawara had painted more than 3000 since 1966, and that he still had possession of a high proportion of them, I'd say not. In comparison, the 2012 show at David Zwirner in New York consisted of 49 painted in New York and 120 painted in other cities.

Come to think of it, the home and away theme of the 2012 show at David Zwirner is hardly even hinted at in the Guggenheim show. But then why should it labour a point that had been made so clearly in the same city in 2012?


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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Museum. Photograph by David Heald.

So that's the content of the exhibition as it may have been discussed between Jeffrey Weiss and On Kawara sometime in 2012. Did it promise to be a fitting end to On Kawara's career? I would say so. And we'll soon see if that proved to be the case. But it's other perspectives I want to investigate first.



TWO

Let's focus on the end of the show. As I said,
48 Years consists of 48 date paintings. Each one from 1972 to 2011 is subtitled with the day of the week it was painted, in whatever language of the place in which it was painted. But two of the last three paintings have been given special subtitles.

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The above painting is subtitled 'Ginevra de Benci'. Now why would that be? I have two theories. First, below is a reproduction of the famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci; it is the only painting by him on public display in the United States. It is on display at the National Gallery of Art which is where Jeffrey Weiss worked before moving to the Guggenheim. Perhaps the painting cropped up in the discussion with On Kawara about the purchase of Title in 2005. In any case, the subtitle could well be a mark of respect for the working relationship between Jeffrey Weiss and On Kawara.

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My other hypothesis is that the choice of subtitle is a tribute to Hiroko. Still serene and beautiful at 73 at the opening of the Dallas show in 2008, she may have had even more of a Ginevra de Benci look about her in her prime.

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The final 'painting' in the show is a pair of paintings, both made on JAN.12,2013, which no doubt called for a special effort by the infirm artist. One is called 'Silence and Utterance' and the other simply 'Saturday'.

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So how does one decode the subtitles? The title of the whole show is 'SILENCE'. But as far as On Kawara was concerned, in Japanese culture, complementaries permeate all thinking. So 'Silence' cannot stand on its own but needs its opposite, 'Utterance'. Perhaps 'Saturday', and indeed all the day of the week subtitles, is an illustration of both silence and utterance.

But let us return to the interview statement of Anne Wheeler, in particular to a statement she makes about the Date Paintings On Kawara made in the months before his death.

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This raises certain questions that I can't answer without getting some inside information. Accordingly, I have written to Anne Wheeler care of One Million Years Foundation, for whom I understand she has an official position.

Dear Anne,

I am researching the ‘final’ chapter of an online On Kawara biography, the penultimate essay being here:
onkawara.co.uk/styled-57/

You say in an interview with Sarah Zabrodski that the artist had intended to include more recent Date Paintings in the Guggenheim show, that is paintings subsequent to the two made on Jan.12, 2013. I am very curious about those and am wondering how much information about these late paintings On Kawara wanted to enter the public realm. Is there a list of them? Does the Journal for 2013 include such info?

I know that the Date Painting for May 5, 2013 went into the collection at Glenstone, the artist having given instruction that this happen and that a box and newspaper be prepared to accompany it. I also know that O.K. had ensured that he’d made at least one D.P. per month since April 1966. I wonder if the records O.K. left reveal the first month in which he didn’t make a Date Painting. I wonder if in the last year or so a new category of Date Painting came into being, that is a Date that was deemed finished but not up to the usual high standards he set for himself. (A Guggenheim video suggests to me that one of the paintings made on Jan.12, 2013 had more variation in the thickness of the characters than was customary.)

In other words, are there some more paintings from 2013 that will one day be shown to the public? And are there some paintings made in 2013 that won’t be made public? I assume that no Date Paintings were made in 2014, as the Today series is described as being '1966 - 2013' in the Glenstone Museum catalogue. I also note that there is no Journal for 2014, or at least there wasn’t in the Guggenheim show.

Any clarification you can give me concerning the above would be much appreciated.

Best wishes,
Duncan McLaren


Will I get an answer? I rather hope I do, but that's not for me to decide. The One Million Years Foundation has a lot to take into account before divulging information. In the meantime, I will approach On Kawara's demise from one or two more angles.



THREE

BEFORE TIME

Before Time sits a gatekeeper. To this gatekeeper comes a man from a far country who asks to gain entry into Time. But the gatekeeper says that he cannot grant him entry at the moment. The man thinks about it and then asks if he will be allowed to come in later on. “It is possible,” says the gatekeeper, “but not now.”

For the time being, the gate to Time stands open, as always, and the gatekeeper walks to the side, so the man bends over in order to see through the gate into the inside. When the gatekeeper notices that, he laughs and says: “If it tempts you so much, try it in spite of my prohibition. But take note: I am powerful. And I am only the most lowly gatekeeper of Time. But from room to room stand gatekeepers, each more powerful than the other. I can’t endure even one glimpse of the third.”

The man from the far country has not expected such difficulties: Time should always be accessible for everyone, the young man thinks, but as he now looks more closely at the gatekeeper in his fur coat, at his large pointed nose and his long, thin, black Tartar’s beard, he decides that it would be better to wait until he gets permission to go further. The gatekeeper gives him a stool and, at the other's request, everything he needs to paint the present day's date, and allows him to sit down at a desk in front of the gate.

There the man sits for days and years. He makes no attempt to pass through the gate leading to the Future, and he asks no further questions of the gatekeeper. The gatekeeper often interrogates the Date Painter, questioning him about his homeland and many other things, but they are the kind of questions ordinary men put, and at the end the gatekeeper always tells the other once more that he cannot let him inside yet, though the Date Painter has not asked to gain admittance since the day he arrived.

The idiosyncratic man devotes himself to his task, ignoring the gatekeeper, no matter how self-importantly the other stands there guarding the entrance to Time itself. During the many years that follow, the gatekeeper observes the Date Painter almost continuously. He forgets about everyone else he turns away from the gate, because this inscrutable man seems to him the only one that matters. The gatekeeper curses the unlucky circumstance he finds himself in, in the first years thoughtlessly and out loud, later, as he grows old, he still mumbles discontentedly to himself.

The gatekeeper becomes childish and, since in the long years studying the Date Painter he has come to know the fleas in his own fur collar, he even asks the fleas to help him persuade the Date Painter to explain himself. Finally his eyesight grows weak, and he does not know whether things are really darker around him or whether his eyes are merely deceiving him. But he recognises now in the darkness an illumination which breaks inextinguishably out of the gateway to Time.

Now neither of them have much time to live. While the gatekeeper still can, he gathers in his head all his experiences of the entire time up into one question which he has not yet put to the Date Painter. He waves to him, since he can no longer lift up his stiffening body. The Date Painter has to bend way down to him, for his own hearing is no longer good. “What do you still want to know, then?” asks the Date Painter, with an ironic smile. “You are insatiable.”

“Everyone except you strives after Time,” says the gatekeeper, “so how is it that in these many years you have not repeated your request for entry?” The Date Painter sees that the man is already dying, so there is no time to lose, and, in order to overcome both of their diminished sense of hearing, he shouts at him, “There never was any Time beyond the gate you have been guarding, that has been clear to me since the day I arrived here. All you or I ever had was the present day, which you have studiously ignored to your everlasting cost. You have faithfully guarded a doorway to nowhere. I am now going to close it."

*

I don't know if that works in the complex way I want it to. But one thing I aimed for in that text was pay a joint tribute to Franz Kafka and On Kawara. Two utterly remorseless and committed men, though one infinitely more positive about human existence than the other.



FOUR

It is June 27, 2014. On Kawara's 29,771st day. His last day.

On finds that he can still do mental arithmetic. So he might as well do some. For consolation. Also to prove something.

He has lived for 714 thousand, 5 hundred and 4 hours. Being 29,771 x 24.

He has lived for 42 million, 870 thousand, two hundred and forty minutes. Being 714,504 x 60.

He has lived for 2 billion, 572 million, 214 thousand and 400 seconds. Being 42,870,240 x 60.

He has lived for almost as many seconds as the universe has been around in years. He is almost as old as the universe, which makes a lot of sense. Indeed, it's a perspective to end on.

(Stops breathing.)

Two billion
five hundred and seventy two million… two hundred and fourteen thousand… four hundred and ten…

Two billion
five hundred and seventy two million… two hundred and fourteen thousand… four hundred and twenty…

Two billion
five hundred and seventy two million… two hundred and fourteen thousand… four hundred and thirty…

Two billion
five hundred and seventy two million… two hundred and fourteen thousand… four hundred and forty…

Two billion
five hundred and seventy two million… two hundred and fourteen thousand… four hundred and fifty…

Two billion
five hundred and seventy two million… two hundred and fourteen thousand… four hundred and sixty…

Two billion
five hundred and seventy two million… two hundred and fourteen thousand… four hundred and seventy…

Two billion
five hundred and seventy two million… two hundred and fourteen thousand… four hundred and eighty…

Two billion
five hundred and seventy two million… two hundred and fourteen thousand… four hundred and ninety…

(Stops counting.)

*

FIVE

February 5, 2015. The day before the show opened to the general public. The following photos were all taken by David Heald, Christine Butler or Scott Rudd on behalf of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. I'm just hoping that I'll be allowed to use them to illustrate this essay. Fingers crossed.

What have we in this first image? A ghost at the feast? Perhaps now that On Kawara has passed away he is allowing himself to attend his own openings.

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If that really was the ghost of On Kawara, he is soon lost in the crowd.

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation. Photograph by Christine Butler.

I suspect the very private view, for the curators, the funders and close family members, would have been on February 4, 2015 for there was a large, young crowd at this opening on February 5, which may have been for members of the Guggenheim Gallery. You can sense their appetite for the work. Mine too, I hope. I need to write this scene in the present tense.

The visitors have soon made their way out of the first room and are walking up the ramp. Some in pairs and others on their own. Everyone is engrossed in the work, and feeling privileged to be there.

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation. Photograph by David Heald.

Slowly up the ramp, going from one January day in 1970 to another. Pausing at those special days where On Kawara managed to make two Date Paintings.

And then a pair of young men come swaggering down the ramp. Have they already been right round the exhibition? It had been envisaged (by me) that when people got to the top of the Guggenheim, they would take the lift back down again. But let's listen in:

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation. Photograph by Christine Butler.

"1970 seems so long ago, my dear."

"You weren't even born in 1970."

"Oh, you're right! I
so feel that I was alive back then. You see I'm a child of the 60s."

"The Beatles, the Beach Boys. Apollo 11 astronauts…"

"Exactly!"

I lose myself in the crowd. Correction, I lose myself in the Guggenheim. The structure of the Museum allows me - and everyone else - to move in and out of the riches that are on offer.

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation. Photograph by Scott Rudd.

Hang on, who's this in the photo below? At first glance, I thought it was David Bowie going about the exhibition relatively incognito. Actually, it could be. By February 2015 he may not have had his cancer diagnosis. And he was always an admirer of contemporary art and its prominent practitioners. He played Andy Warhol in a film biopic.

'David' is examining 'I WENT'. Perhaps he's checking if his path crossed On Kawara's in Berlin in 1975. Well, I've already checked that out and drawn a blank. But I didn't have all the raw data at my disposal, so let's scrap that conclusion.

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation. Photograph by Scott Rudd.

Why do I keep mentioning David Bowie in this On Kawara website? I suppose because the work of both men has moved me so much. It's partly a generational thing. Kawara was born in 1933, Bowie was born in 1947, and I was born in 1957. We are almost contemporaries from one perspective, in that we have all walked the planet at the same time as adults. And yet as a distinctly younger person I can look at the complete works of Kawara and Bowie and be full of admiration, bordering on awe. 'Full of admiration, bordering on awe' is a cliché, and I must avoid cliché if I want to succeed in writing successfully about these two ambitious-nay-impeccable artists. (Oh God, hyperbole now. Cliché closely followed by hyperbole, this doesn't bode well.)

But it's more than the generational thing as I've just expressed it. When Kawara was at his absolute peak, between 1968 and 1979 when the self-observation series' were in full flow, so was Bowie's music. Albums such as
Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Station to Station (I'm not even having to look these up) Low, Heroes and Lodger all came out in the same 12-year period. I really should write a novel about a kid growing up in Scotland, conscious of the Apollo moon mission, listening to 'Starman' on Top of the Pops, and receiving a postcard every single day for months on end from a mysterious artist with a Japanese name.

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation. Photograph by Scott Rudd.

"There's a Starman, waiting in the sky."
He'd like to come and meet us, but he thinks he'd blow our minds."
He says: Let the children use it." (I GOT UP AT 9.45A.M.)
Let the children lose it." (I GOT UP AT 6.38 A.M.)
Let all the children boogie." (I GOT UP AT 5.43 P.M.)

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation. Photograph by Christine Butler.

Let's be clear. I'm walking around level three of the Guggenheim show listening to Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars while taking in the art and the architecture. Thanks to the Internet, all this is possible these days. Next track? 'Five Years'.

"Pushing through the market square (I GOT UP AT 8.35 A.M.)
So many mothers sighing
(I GOT UP AT 9.11 A.M.)
News had just come over
(I GOT UP AT 10.27 A.M.)
We had five years left to cry in."
(I GOT UP AT 6.23 A.M.)

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation. Photograph by Christine Butler.

"News guy wept and told us
(I GOT UP AT 7.55 A.M.)
Earth was really dying
(I GOT UP AT 3.33 A.M.)
Cried so much his face was wet
(I GOT UP AT 6.28 P.M.)
Then I knew he was not lying."
(I GOT UP AT 9.00 A.M.)

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation. Photograph by Scott Rudd.

"I heard telephones, opera house, favourite melodies
(I GOT UP AT 10.15 A.M.)
I saw boys, toys, electric irons and TV's
(I GOT UP AT 10.16 A.M.)
My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare
(I GOT UP AT 10.17 A.M.)
I had to cram so many things to store everything in there."
(I GOT UP AT 10.18A.M.)

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation. Photograph by Scott Rudd.

"And all the fat, skinny people
And all the tall, short people
And all the nobody people

And all the somebody people

I never thought I'd need, so many people…"


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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation. Photograph by Scott Rudd.

Okay, let's calm down.

Is that's what's happening?

"Hello, Spaceboy."

"Everyone says "Hi".

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation. Photograph by Scott Rudd.

Now I will calm down. Is it such a big deal this exhibition? Many of On Kawara's contemporaries had already had shows at the Guggenheim. In 1986 alone, both Richard Long and Gilbert and George had solo shows here. These were artists promoted by Konrad Fischer and who achieved world fame long before On Kawara did. In 2012, even John Chamberlain had a show here. That's the guy who took over On Kawara's massive East 13th Street studio in 1967. And Daniel Buren, another of the artists who was in the Guggenheim International Exhibition in 1971, had a solo show here in 2005. He's the artist who paints site-specific stripes, as it were, who was in Halifax, Nova Scotia, when On Kawara was up there in 1973 at Kasper König's invitation.


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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation. Photograph by Scott Rudd.

Actually, Daniel Buren was commissioned to write an essay on On Kawara for the SILENCE catalogue. He adds a postscript to that, written in Naples on the 5th of August, 2014, saying that he'd been stupefied to learn the news of On's death. He went on to say: 'An artist whom I admire who dies is something of myself that dies."

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation. Photograph by Christine Butler.

I'm going to quote a paragraph of Buren's, plus some shorter bits: 'Despite, or even because of, this cruel and definitive silence, it is the work of On Kawara as a whole, his grand
oeuvre, one might say, that will in the end take on its autonomy and begin its own life. The source is dry but the echoes that begin to rise from it and resound will make its meaning grow deeper. The importance and profound invention of these works with their many formal innovations and constant developments resulting from a long, patient and rigorous life of work spent questioning and questioning oneself without end, will settle over the field of art for a long time.'

I couldn't agree more, Daniel Buren.

'A towering landmark, this long saga rich in message and influence will continue to spread.'

I think you're so right, DB.

'Once upon time and forever: the work of On Kawara.'

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation. Photograph by Scott Rudd.

Actually, while I'm reflecting in this mode, let me recall the 'Unanswered Question' for On Kawara that artist Rene Rietmeyer provided to Karlyn de Jongh in 2009. It asked: 'Could you have done anything to get more satisfaction out of your own existence?'

I suspect the answer is 'not much'. I think On Kawara did a very wise thing when he took his foot off the art accelerator in 1979, when he decided not to replace the stamps that had been stolen and which were necessary to carry on with his 'I GOT UP', 'I WENT' and 'I MET' series. It left room for the family life that he made with Hiroko, which soon resulted in two children. Of course, he never lost touch with his art practice, and when he came back to it with a vengeance, once Akito and Sahe were fully grown, he quickly regained a high position in the art world. Well, he had never really lost that. But he did take that position to new heights with the shows that he, with the essential help of talented curators, conceived in 2002, 2008, 2012 and for the Guggenheim.

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation. Photograph by David Heald.

In the vitrine in the foreground of the above photo are all the Journals, including the one for 2013, that should contain some of the information I've asked Anne Wheeler for. But will said info be forthcoming? It's now two days since I wrote to her care of One Million Years Foundation.

But let's not trouble myself about what facts I don't have to hand, when what I do have in front of me is so rich in juxtaposition. Look at this, for example. On level five, one of the moon landing paintings…

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation. Photograph by Scott Rudd.

…And directly below it the Twelve Sunday Paintings from Today, which represents the months of the year in the same way as the Dallas show celebrated the days of the week. JAN., FEB., MAR., APR., MAY, JUNE, JULY, AUG., SEPT., OCT., NOV., DEC., though not in that order. Don't you just love those abbreviations? Everything that has ever happened did so in one of those moon months.


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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation. Photograph by Scott Rudd.

There were a lot of people at the opening. On Kawara would have been pleased. Any artist is in the communication game, and successful artists are those that reach an audience.

But what's this? Displayed over two rows, a wall full of the 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams that On Kawara sent over thirty years. Telegrams are those strange objects that rarely seem to have dates on them, either the date they were sent by the sender or the date of receipt at the other end. Perhaps because in a typical telegram, the news of a family death, or a birth in the family, was initiated and delivered in the same day, and what matter the date itself?

God, it's 'Five Years' again:

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation. Photograph by Scott Rudd.

"I think I saw you in an ice-cream parlour, ('I AM STILL ALIVE.')
Drinking milk shakes cold and long. ('I AM STILL ALIVE.')
Smiling and waving and looking so fine.
('I AM STILL ALIVE.')
Don't think you knew you were in this song."
('I AM STILL ALIVE.')

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation. Photograph by Christine Butler.

"And it was cold and it rained, so I felt like an actor ('I AM STILL ALIVE.')
And I thought of Ma and I wanted to get back there ('I AM STILL ALIVE.')
Your face, your race, the way that you talk ('I AM STILL ALIVE.')
I kiss you, you're beautiful, I want you to walk." ('I AM STILL ALIVE.')

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation. Photograph by Scott Rudd.

"We've got five years, stuck on my eyes. ('I AM STILL ALIVE.')
Five years, what a surprise. ('I AM STILL ALIVE.')
We've got five years, my brain hurts a lot. ('I AM STILL ALIVE.')
Five years, that's all we've got. ('I AM STILL ALIVE.')
We've got five years, what a surprise. ('I AM STILL ALIVE.')

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation. Photograph by Scott Rudd.

Five years? Thank-you, David Bowie. But I'm looking for one more perspective on Time, courtesy of On Kawara. Here we are on a planet, that is turning around, on its axis, giving us our 24-hour day and night. Orbiting the sun, giving us the year made up of twelve ancient months. Meanwhile, the planet is still moving away from the source of the Big Bang at 1.3 million miles per hour. That is a big number, but there are bigger.

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Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation. Photograph by Scott Rudd.

The Big Bang took place 14 billion years ago. Which is nothing really, given that On Kawara lived nearly as long, in that he lived for two-to-three billion seconds. Where will we be in 14 billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, years? That is the question. In a far larger universe, which would still be Big-Banging away in all directions. Still living one day at a time, if not extinct. Still admiring On Kawara's exemplary art, if not extinct. That's my prediction. According to On Kawara, we are all astronauts. Going where no organism has ever gone before.

What matters in life is the seconds, minutes, hours, days (especially), weeks, months and years (especially also) that it consists of. I don't think it matters if you express the length of your conscious stay on this planet in days or in years. On Kawara lived for 80-and-a-half years, or 29,771 days.

As for me, I'm between 64 and 65 years old. I've lived 23,615 days and am looking forward to the party on my 24,000th birthday on July 20, 2023. When I say 'party', I mean I'll be sure to mark the day with a Date Painting. First, I'll check out my arithmetic, of course. I don't want to make a fool of myself by celebrating a non-birthday.

Ha! - as if there was such a thing as a non-birthday. Every day is the anniversary of my - or your - birthday. And to be celebrated as such.





JUNE 13, 2022. Blairgowrie, Scotland.





POSTSCRIPT

That would seem to be that. But as I said at the end of the last essay, it is important - for me - that I have other irons in the fire now that this project, at least on one level, is ending. ON irons in the fire. Here, dear reader, is an email to the old and valued friend who is going to host a Date Painting workshop later this month:

Hi Johnny,

This is an email that you might consider forwarding to the rest of the Date Painting workshop group, those five, singularly fortunate individuals.

Today’s Date began at 9.30 a.m., as soon as my latest, friendly airbnb-er had gone.

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Then, as the coat of raw Sienna dried, I went up to the spare room to change the linen. While I was there I checked to see if the Van Gogh painting on the wall really did say ’SAFE’ in the corner, as my guest had suggested. I could see what she meant.

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By the time my friend Louise came at 11, I had applied the first coat of Payne’s grey. Note in the pic below that you can still see the warm background coat of raw sienna peaking through.

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At this stage I could still have painted 'JUNE 8, 2022’. That would have been the twentieth anniversary of Louise and I enjoying ourselves at a mutual friend's wedding.

Or, I could even have made it ‘JUNE 11, 2022’ which would have been 20 years and a day after the performance of
Twelfth Night at the Globe, which finished in the rain. I hope Louise remembers. Her face is giving little away!

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Today’s painting was 'finished' by 4pm, so I took it into the garden to be photographed against what is currently my most spectacular bloom, so that I’ll remember when lupins bloom in years to come.

It’s at about 4pm that I expect the Kenilworth workshop to finish, and hopefully we can do something similar.

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Of course, one important reason that I’ve painted 'JUNE 12, 2022' is so that I can bring it along to Kenilworth. People will be able to use it, if they wish, to help them create the spacing for 'JUNE 22, 2022'. With only a little allowance needing to be made for the bigger size of the ‘2’ in ’22' than the ‘1’ in ’12'.

And so to the ‘LET TIME PASS' bench. I think I had the blue February date painting with me as I’d been wondering whether I should have gone for blue on what turned out to be such a blue-skied day:

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I have decided that the workshop will offer the full range of On Kawara background colours, that is, red, blue or black, even though cadmium red costs double what the others cost.

Back home, I was able to make the following pic on my Mac. You can actually just glimpse the church spire by my house in this picture, though it's easier to see with the naked eye:

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Of course, what we will do on the 22nd with our paintings after finishing them, and before the day passes at midnight, is up to us. If we reconvene in a pub in the evening, bringing our completed Date Paintings with us, I think we would be bound to have a joyful party.

Looking forward,

Duncers x



The Date Painting workshop referred to repeatedly in this email can be found
here.