In the last week of 1976 and the first ten days of 1977, Hiroko was a patient at a private hospital in Berlin. On was able to visit her every second day, and he was joined in this by their main Berlin friends, Koichi and Yuri Ono. But once Hiroko was discharged, Ilka Katherina Schellenberg, Kasper König's wife, made her way to Berlin and stayed with On and Hiroko at their Berlin flat for a week, no doubt helping Hiroko to recuperate from whatever had ailed her. I imagine this meant Ilka leaving her daughters, Lili and Coco, under the care of Kasper in New York, but I can't be certain.

Resumé. Kasper König may not have first seen the Date Paintings until 1967, but thereafter he became On Kawara's main supporter in the art world. He gave On money so that he could go to Mexico in 1968. Kasper was living in Belgium and then Nova Scotia for a few years, until coming back to live in New York in 1974. The Kawaras and the Königs had been neighbours since then, though On and Hiroko had made long road-trips across America and had spent 1976 in Berlin. Clearly Hiroko and Ilka were close friends too, indeed it's obvious that the bonds between all four adults were strong. And when Ilka gave birth to a second daughter in May, 1972, she was christened Hiroko König, though she came to be called Coco, possibly to avoid confusion with the very person she was called after.

Anyway, I'm sure On and Hiroko were both grateful to Ilka that the 'I MET' lists looked the way they did between January 14 and January 20, 1977. Here is one such:

bx8gyxphtnwr7f0tzuowja_thumb_f219 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Date Paintings, how were they coming along? The fact is, On was hardly doing any. He made one in Berlin in each of January and February. Here is one of two 'I READ;' pages that went with 25. JAN. 1977:


The headline translates as: 'Four-hour conversation between Schmidt and Mondale. The focus is on economic problems and Bonn's nuclear policy - today Mondale's detour to Berlin.' In other words, On Kawara's finger is on the pulse of politics as a senior American politician visits Germany.

Altogether On Kawara made 36 Dates during his year in Berlin. He was most productive in the middle of the year, being slow to get going and then winding down over the last three months. Below is the 'I READ" page that On made in conjunction with his final Berlin Date:


The main story concerns Indian politics, the subsidiary story is about student politics and violence in Rome. Perhaps On was feeling restless again. In any case, towards the end of February, he took a trip to Dusseldorf:

70b046nktqsymvi6l1qzfa_thumb_da71 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Hiroko was well enough to accompany him. Dusseldorf was where Konrad Fischer had his contemporary art gallery. So On and Hiroko met (see below, left) Konrad, his wife and their two children. Oh, and Gilbert and George, who were showing there at the time. Oh, and Bruce Nauman, who was impressing Berta Fischer by strolling the streets of Dusseldorf in a pair of cowboy boots.

But the key person here was Konrad Fischer, who had been the first European gallerist to represent On's work. One Million Years was shown in 1971. A first show of Date Paintings was shown there in 1972. Date Paintings made in 1973 (in Stockholm and Halifax) were shown in Dusseldorf in 1975. And Dates made in Berlin in 1976 would be shown in Dusseldorf in 1978. Perhaps it was this prospective exhibition that was being discussed between artist and dealer in February, 1977.

Now - I expect because this was a fairly important meeting - Kasper König was in attendance also, having travelled there from New York. Just as important was the subsequent trip to Paris (see below, right), where Pontus Hulten had arranged for On Kawara to have a solo show in May at the newly opened Pompidou Centre. At this point it would seem that the world was On's oyster.

jkv9s002bxpr0ukxu9xs9rheg_thumb_f21a.kkjakqawsggxna00258tsxzmg_thumb_f222-2 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

So again Kasper was with them to make sure that things went smoothly with the various Pompidou curators and to ensure that On's unique achievement would be suitably showcased. That's taken us to the end of February, 1977, and I hope you can see, dear reader, what a great help Ilka Katharina Schellenberg had been to Hiroko (and On) and what a great help Kasper König had been to On (and Hiroko).


The Berlin year came to an end, and On and Hiroko returned to New York in early March. Their loft at 140 Greene Street wasn't habitable as yet, so where did they stay? They stayed with Kasper and Ilka. But here is the complication. Kasper and Ilka would seem to have been living in different flats by this time, having split up, and so On and Hiroko moved between 423 Broadway, Kasper's address, and 77 Wooster Street, Ilka and the children's address. All three addresses were in SoHo, a relatively small area in Lower Manhattan.

Firstly then, from March 8 to March 26, On and Hiroko stayed with Kasper. In these nineteen days, Kasper König was met by On every day except one. Ilka was met three times and the children twice. In addition, a woman called Anna Astner was met four times, and on three of these occasions her name is immediately after Kasper's name on the 'I MET' list. I do not know what Anna Astner looked like. There is nothing about her online. She is just a name that crops up from time to time on On Kawara's 'I MET' lists. Was this Anna Astner Kasper König's lover, or his personal assistant, or both? No need to jump to a conclusion at this stage. Let the data gradually reveal the nature of their relationship.

On March 27, On and Hiroko moved to 77 Wooster Street (the 'I GOT UP' cards no longer gave 423 Broadway as On's address) where they remained for ten days, regularly bumping into Ilka, Lili and Coco. No Kasper König. And no Anna Astner. I imagine Kasper was working away from New York, international art operator that he was. Let's commemorate this period with a sample from On's art work:

19dno8bbrv6phkazd72t9q_thumb_f21c.hhf1tnyqrmsdqtcg2xl1bw_thumb_f225 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

From April 6, and for the following sixteen days, On Kawara was staying at 423 Broadway again, and meeting Kasper König each day. As before, Ilka and the kids were met occasionally. On April 18 the names Anna Astner and Ilka Katherina Schellenberg crop up on the same 'I MET' list, which might seem strange on the face of it. But scrutiny of the 'I WENT' map shows that On went to 140 Greene Street that day, which is perhaps where he met Ilka, who may have come along to see the new loft and/or to hang out with Hiroko. Ilka's is the fourth name on the 'I MET' list. After that, I'm assuming On met René Block, Kasper König and Anna Astner at Kasper's place, it being only a short walk from 140 Greene Street. But look, this paragraph has me assuming that Anna was Ilka's rival for Kasper's affections and took care to avoid her, certainly when Ilka was in Kasper's presence. And I really shouldn't make that assumption. The relationship between Anna and Kasper may well have been platonic.

Indeed, I mustn't put too much emphasis on the Königs and Anna Astner. On was also seeing a great deal of Aoki throughout April, 1977. On met him on 23 days in the month, and thirteen times he met Aoki's wife, Teresa, on the same day. Sometimes, as in the 'I WENT' reproduced below, On clearly spent time in both 132 Greene and 140 Greene Street.


I suspect what was happening was that On was paying Aoki to work for him in order to get 140 Greene Street habitable. Aoki, with his carpentry, plumbing and electrical skills, had already got his own loft into liveable shape, and maybe that's where On and Aoki went for R&R in between working sessions.

Sure enough, at about this time, On and Hiroko moved into 140 Greene Street. The first 'I GOT UP' card that is so addressed is April 22, 1977. So let's see the lead up to that significant change of address:

p1rc5iuztdy2zsz5opifpw_thumb_f224.ece99wieqg24rnlcepbq3q_thumb_f223 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

But I've jumped the gun. On only had the pleasure of getting up in his own property for three days before he and Hiroko moved back in with Ilka and the girls. Perhaps 140 Greene Street was not quite the finished item yet.

In any case, come May 9, after a fortnight at 77 Wooster Street, On (without Hiroko) took an ocean liner (the QE2) across the Atlantic.


I promise the patient reader that this essay is going to take off in Paris and London. 'I WENT' will finally come into its own. Don't fret that we're leaving the Big Apple for a while, it will be there for us when we return in a month or so. Please, sit back and relax in the comfort of your luxuriously appointed cabin.

zrntx49otfscg002bwflafskq_thumb_db90 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Not a bad address, The North Atlantic. By this time the postcards were going to Jurgen Wesseler, in Bremhaven, and Helen Lewis, in Los Angeles. The former would organise a show of the four batches of postcards he received later in the year. While Helen Lewis helped with the curation of a show of Date Paintings at the Otis Art Institute at the end of 1977. I'll say more about that show later. Helen Lewis received postcards in May, June and July. The July ones never got to her. They were returned to sender and, I suspect, are now with One Million Years Foundation. The June cards she recently sold to Larkin Erdmann, an art historian, collector and dealer based in Zurich. He has been selling those cards on individually, partly through his gallery's presence at Art Fairs such as Frieze in London. Every household should have one!

But for now let's sit back and enjoy the cruise. This idiosyncratic map confirms something significant.

veomflvarhqksy7ccr9dha_thumb_db8d Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

As ever, the red line shows On Kawara's movement from midnight to midnight. In that time the QE2 moved some distance across the Atlantic in accordance with the entire journey from New York to Southampton taking four to five days. The red dot indicates when On Kawara got up at 8.20am. In other words about a third of the way through the 24-hour period, about a third of the way along the QE2's route for May 11.

I've scanned the 'I MET' lists for those ocean-going days. The names of the people On Kawara met on board the cruise liner remind me of the exotic names on those first 1968 'I MET' lists, when On was staying at the hotel in Mexico City. Who are these people? I don't know. Men and women rich and leisured enough to travel from America to Europe by ship. Not the sort of person to make a big impression on internet history, perhaps. Or maybe I haven't traced anyone because these individuals could have any background at all, not simply an art world connection. People are easier to trace if you know they are of the relatively small art world.

Of course, the really significant thing about these lists is that Hiroko Hiraoka is not on them. Why was On Kawara travelling alone? I think I can understand why he was travelling by boat, for the novelty of it. But I don't know why his wife and travelling companion was not by his side. Perhaps Hiroko was ill. Perhaps it was her that was taking on the responsibility of managing the transformation of the property at 140 Greene Street. Oh well, maybe in due course I will find out what accounted for her absence.

Our artist on a cruise across the Atlantic with no Hiroko and no Date Painting. What was On doing in the absence of his two favourites? I suppose the throb of the engines might have made Date Painting difficult. There was bound to be some roll on the boat, and some vibration. But, as we'll see, On wasn't doing his thing in the European cities either. Very strange. Totally normal for anyone else. Very strange for On Kawara. No Date painting between May 2 and June 24.

Once the QE2 arrived in Southampton on May 13, On travelled directly to Paris. Certainly that's where he was on May 14:

0025gql40025f3svy3c39e8g8iqq_thumb_db92 miexxcrkspwnppsknezwkq_thumb_db91 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

As one can work out from the 'I WENT' map below, the Hotel de la Bretonnerie is not far from the Pompidou Centre, which opened at the end of January, 1977, where a sequence of On's Date Paintings were showing from the end of March until May 16 (so he was cutting it fine in order to see his own show). The Pompidou Centre was still a building site when the printed part of his map was created. It would rise up where there are several parallel red lines in the top right-hand corner of the map.

30lxbzrdqk2ijxw0iujrra_thumb_db8e Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

As I mentioned in connection with his February visit, the 97 paintings on show were painted on consecutive days from January 1, 1970 to March 31, 1970. During this period, On meticulously painted, to a high degree of perfection, a minimum of one painting each day. But on five days he painted two, and on another single day, three. What a special day March 18, 1970 was. That’s the day he must have been painting almost all his waking hours, managing to perfect ‘MAR.18,1970’ thrice.

As I mentioned, the curators responsible for instigating the show at Pompidou Centre were from the Musée Moderne in Stockholm. In other words, this show had its origins in On Kawara's residency in Stockholm. This is further confirmed when one looks at the 'I MET' list for that same day:

May 14, 1977

Veronique Legrand was an assistant curator at the Pompidou Centre. Björn Springfeldt and Milla Trägårdh were from the Moderne Muséet and both were sent 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams back in 1973. They would also be in at the death of all this I GOT UP - I WENT - I MET business in September 1979.

But let us return to the above 'I WENT' map, whose source is On Kawara: horizontality/verticality. It reveals that On Kawara made one other major stop that day, presumably after taking leave of that subset of the curatorial team that he'd been with. Alone (in my mind's eye) he made his way to the only skyscraper in the city, and took the lift to the 56th floor, which apparently only takes 38 seconds. Then a short walk up stairs would have taken On to the roof terrace with its views over Paris. He was on top of Montparnasse Tower, constructed from 1969 to 1973. A good view? I'm supposing that On Kawara looked out for the Pompidou Centre, newly opened earlier in the year, as I've said, famous the world over for having all its colourful pipes and servicing on the outside of the building.

On Kawara: watcher from the hills. I must bear in mind that On had done this once before. That is, in Cleveland on September 10, 1975, On had split his day between visiting Cleveland Art Museum (five excellent Van Goghs) and going to the top of Terminal Tower, with a fine view over the city and Lake Eiry.

Anyway, back to Paris, May 1977. The show at the Pompidou Centre may have included the 97 paintings from Jan. 1, 1970 to 31 March, 1970, but only some of them were hung on the walls, while the rest of them were exhibited horizontally, in their cardboard boxes, displayed inside vitrines. This would have interrupted the stream of time that would have been visible if all the paintings had been hung on the walls, in date order, as they would be hung in the show at the Guggenheim just a few months after his death in 2014.

Relevant here, is how On Kawara had hung the Date Paintings in 1966 when his studio was a massive Manhattan loft. All the way around the main space of his studio ran two rows of Date Paintings. A row of small-sized paintings at eye level, which he referred to as size A and B, while resting on the floor was another row of larger paintings, size C , D, E and F. In addition, On Kawara had an office space adjacent to the main space and, though not all the walls of the office were preserved for posterity via On Kawara’s documentation, he did take photos of one wall. And a single photograph shows that by the end of 1966 there were five rows of small, size A and B Date Paintings, the hanging of which had gradually restricted where On Kawara could sit on his day bed without placing his back against a painting. At the end of 1966, after taking that final photograph of the studio, showing a wall chockablock with Date Paintings, On Kawara must have felt that he had achieved his ambition of 'collecting' and displaying a year's Dates. Yet still he may have dreamed of seeing the Dates elegantly spaced throughout the walls of a white cube.

He may have realised on May 14, 1977 that this day, a day that he’d had such high hopes of, had not quite hit the spot. And indeed that such a day might not arrive until the end of his life. Everything would fall exactly into place, all his days would fall exactly into line, at more or less the same moment that the whole thing collapsed in on itself and consciousness was lost forever.

Perhaps that's hyperbole. Maybe going to the top of the highest building on the same day he'd been looking at those 97 paintings - which had been done several years before while ensconced in his studio paying close attention to the interface of his paintbrush and the canvas - was a way of reminding himself that the purpose of the close concentration was the distance that one achieved from everyday life. On Kawara, the socially reserved painter and reader of the New York Times, was really On Kawara, watcher from the hills.

Another aspect of this perspective (I must milk it for all its worth) is the bird's eye view of world famous monuments. There is the Eiffel Tower, far beneath the viewing platform atop Montparnasse Tower. This is the kind of view glorified on the postcards that On Kawara began to send to Dan Graham from February 27, 1970. That is, in the middle of his three-month marathon Date Painting effort. I mean the State of Liberty viewed from on high.

And On went on sending Dan that identical postcard from February 27 until July 7, 1970. Same card, same watcher on the hills. 135 in all. So what had been a three-month period of absolute dedication to working in the studio, ended up being another three months flying high as a kite. Something like that, anyway. Also worth bearing in mind is that in 1972, On Kawara spent the summer sending Pontus Hulten 'I GOT UP' postcards from New York, from late May to early September. 117 in all. "Ecstasy, ecstasy, ecstasy. They've all got X to say." To parody Frankie Howard from about this time.

Don't tell me these 'I GOT UP' postcards weren't instrumental in getting On Kawara a show at the Pompidou Centre five years later. Indeed, I can't help thinking that these postcards, the sets to Dan Graham and Pontus Hulten, along with the telegrams to Pontus Hulten's Swedish colleagues, should have been part of the Pompidou show. Apparently, the press and public didn't respond at all well to the Date Paintings. I've seen a translation of Pontus Hulten's accompanying essay and its too dry and academic. Maybe the curators didn't try hard enough to seduce the audience. Maybe they didn't try as hard as On Kawara had tried to seduce his first audience - the curators.

Step into the public's shoes for a moment. (It's another perspective available from on high.) They walk into the gallery. They see a whole lot of almost identical, similar-sized, near-black paintings. The first room includes:

JAN.1,1970… JAN.2,1970… JAN.3,1970… JAN.4,1970… JAN.5,1970… JAN.6,1970… JAN.7,1970… JAN.8,1970… JAN.9,1970… JAN.10,1970…

It would be awfully easy to interpret that as the following:

JAP.1,1945… JAP.2,1945… JAP.3,1945… JAP.4,1945… JAP.5,1945… JAP.6,1945… JAP.7,1945… JAP.8,1945… JAP.9,1945… JAP.10,1945…

In other words, in what was still in many ways the post-war era (in part thanks to Viet Nam, a former French colony), it was possibly asking too much of the French public to get the existential intention of On Kawara's work. Besides, the atomic bombing of his country did have a permanent impact on his psyche. Sure, On Kawara left the land of his birth in his late twenties and internationalised himself. However, you can take the artist out of Japan, but you can't take Japan out of the artist.

A big moment in Paris, despite the show's poor reception. Or at least that's what I'm presently thinking, based on a study of the limited - but invaluable - evidence that On Kawara left behind. And in particular that little red box in the bottom left corner of a detail from the day's 'I WENT', where Montparnasse Tower's viewing platform is.

A few more perspectives before I move away from this top spot:

  • Standing here reminds me of that passage in Titus Groan, the first volume of the 'Gormenghast' trilogy by Mervyn Peake, when Steerpike emerges from the labyrinthine corridors of the castle and has a view of the whole sprawling stone mass of the castle's exterior. Steerpike is a brilliant, ambitious man, and he spends hours looking at every turret, every window, every passage, creating a mental picture that he feels will be of use to him later in his plot to take control of the castle.

  • Standing here reminds me too that The Independent on Sunday had offices in Canary Wharf, at the time the tallest building in London, when I went there in 1998 on being presented with a weekly column to write about contemporary art as an unexpected bonus from the publication of Personal Delivery. Right now, standing (virtually) on Montparnasse Tower I'm remembering those glory days for me, which lasted until a change of editor in 2001.

  • Did On Kawara think of those three months in 1970, subject of Date Painting upon Date Painting, as glory days? Did he think of May 14, 1977 as a glory day? Or did he continue to think of each day as the only one worth living, because consciousness itself could never be topped, could never be embellished by personal relationship or achievement. Putting Steerpike's and my own sense of worldly ambition in perspective?

  • How can I put this next perspective? Given the title that On Kawara gave to his own 2002 show that began its world tour in Birmingham, let me quote the title page of Watcher on the Hills by Raynor C. Johnson: 'I believe the only news of any interest does not come from the great cities or from the councils of state, but from some lonely watcher on the hills who has a momentary glimpse of infinitude and feels the universe rushing at him.'

Me: "Don't jump, On. Promise me you won't jump."


On also met Rene Denzot while in Paris, but not Roger Marzaguil. He then hopped over to Brussels for three days.

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

The hotel is bottom left of his route. And down the right-hand side are the names of two roads that On Kawara travelled off the map to before returning. But it's the two or three places he seems to have stopped at in the middle of the map that I will investigate.

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

Well, I've had a quick look using Google Maps and have nothing significant to report. On seems to have visited the Bourse, a stock exchange building. Then wandered close to the Grand Palace, possibly to find a place to eat. He's gone further south in the city, but I can't tell why.

Again it may help to have the 'I MET' for this day. Here are the names:

May 21, 1977

Ah, now I get it! A Google search of Anne Hauben brings up the slightest mention of The Museum of Beaux Arts, Brussels. And note this, the Date Painting 10.JAN,1973, which had been made in Stockholm, and had been shown as part of 'One Year's Production' in Bern. Well, that show had moved on to The Museum of Beaux Arts in Brussels. Then the Date Painting had appeared in Konrad Fischer's Gallery in Dusseldorf and now was back in Brussels as part of 'American Art in Belgium'.

Two Date Paintings were shown in 'American Art in Belgium', the other being JULY9,1973, also shown at Bern and Dusseldorf. The exhibition was open from 25 May to 28 August, 1977. The opening would have been on May 24 or May 25. This was a few days before the opening, so perhaps On was checking out the hanging of his own part of the show. It's possible that he got to wander around the rest of the exhibition, under the guidance of Anne Hauben. In which case he may have clocked how his own work looked alongside art by Dan Graham, Andy Warhol, John Baldessari, Joseph Kosuth, and the rest.

Back to Paris and post-Pompidou meetings with Rene Denizout and Johannes Glasnach who'd hosted On's art in Bern. Then across the English Channel to London. I'd long told myself that if I ever managed to access 'I MET' and 'I WENT' for the week On Kawara spent in London from May 25 to June 2, 1977, then I would gorge myself on such riches. In 2022, thanks to the libraries of Art Gallery Ontario and the University of Michigan, respectively, that day has come and gone. I refer you to this particular GAME ON Chapter: LONDON, ON'S LONDON. A big reason for my enthusiasm was that I feel London is my city. I was there from the summer of 1979 until the autumn of 2003. That's 24 full years of London life. What a wealth of experience to bring to bear on On Kawara's eight days in the city.

But for the purposes of this chapter, I must cut to the chase. On was in London - without Hiroko or Kasper - to develop his relationship with Nicholas Logsdail and the Lisson Gallery. The Lisson was the gallery that Kasper Konig had decided was perfect to introduce the conceptual art of On Kawara to a British audience. Nicholas Logsdail had met On in New York and been sent both 'I GOT UP' postcards and 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams. He took a lot of cultivating, but the Lisson did show On Kawara's work several times, including the show that hooked me in 1992. But this week in 1977 was early days. On checked into his quiet, backstreet Paddington hotel on May 26.

Two of On's first days in the city were spent at Lisson, within walking distance of his hotel, getting to know the gallerist and his family, who all lived adjacent to the gallery itself. It suits me to suggest that on these days, On Kawara's solo show for spring of the next year was properly thought through. The artist would have been shown over the gallery spaces and the exhibition would have been put together in the listening (Lissoning) and seeing minds of Logsdail and Kawara. Certainly, that's what 'I WENT' and 'I MET' suggest.

The Date Paintings would be painted intermittently once On Kawara got back to New York, beginning in late June and ending at the close of the year. They would be displayed in the small rooms of the gallery at a density of one, or at the most two, per wall.

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

What could be more stunningly simple! The Lisson does it again! The above images show six of the ten Date Paintings that were in the April 1978 show. But I have got a little ahead of myself. On Kawara is in London and Nicholas Logsdail is proving to be an amicable host. On Sunday, May 29, the I MET suggests they enjoyed a Sunday afternoon lunch party out of London.


At this time, Stephen Willats (see the above 'I MET') was an artist represented by Nicholas Logsdail. And Richard Cork wrote about art for the Evening Standard. However, the Heinz Nigg (see the above 'I MET') memoir tells me, even though it's in German, about some of the deeper connections between these people. When Heinz first came to London in 1976, he made contact with Stephen Willats because of the community art that Willats was involved with, and because of the Control Magazine that he was publishing. Heinz writes about meeting Stephen as soon as he arrived, and staying with him while he looked for a flat. Moreover, as early as August 1976, Heinz mentions setting up a meeting with Richard Cork in the latter's role as editor of Studio International. Quite a networker was Heinz Nigg. Apparently, he was a working class guy, but that is not how working class guys from Britain behaved in the 1970s. His Swiss upbringing may account for his ability to hold the attention of such accomplished, slightly older people.

So does that mean there was one large party that On Kawara attended? And if so where was that? Let's turn to 'I WENT' which seems to take us off in two near-opposite directions, north-west and south.

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

I suspect the Sunday lunch was held at Richard Cork's place to the north and west, and that On Kawara returned to London in the evening and took a tube (passing underneath Buckingham Palace and Victoria Station) to Brixton, where Heinz Nigg was renting a flat. Perhaps Heinz Nigg would already have formed his views on English society. On would be actively comparing the hospitality he'd received in Dusseldorf, hosted by Konrad Fischer and his young family, with what he was experiencing in London courtesy of the Logsdails. Dusseldorf: more international. London: more insular and self-satisfied. The art world at this time was dominated, as was much else, by privately educated individuals who finished their education at Oxford or Cambridge. At least,Nicholas Logsdail chose a London art school instead, under the influence of his uncle, the successful writer Roald Dahl.

Here is a high-quality reproduction of a postcard that On sent from London.

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

Point of information: On did not go near the Houses of Parliament all week, though they and Big Ben feature on several of the cards. On didn't go to the British Museum or the National Gallery either in his eight-day stay. Which makes me think this was not his first visit to London. He may have been to these places when he travelled to Europe in 1964. On the other hand, when you've been to such palaces of culture once, you find yourself wanting to revisit. There are four van Goghs, several Rembrandts, and, indeed, limitless riches in the National Gallery. I don't understand how On Kawara could have kept away from that place in May/June 1977. But he did.

Let me just summarise in very broad terms his movements for the day. First the red line to and from Whitechapel Art Gallery. Then the blue line south east to the Tate and then north to whatever awaited him in Primrose Hill.


Here is the 'I MET for this, On's second sociable London day, a Tuesday:

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

Bob Law was a minimalist painter, represented by the Lisson, and Gina was his wife. Oxbridge-educated Michael Compton and Richard Morphet worked at the Tate, Compton as a curator and Morphet as a writer, though Compton also wrote art historical stuff. Norman Rosenthal, at this stage in his career, had just left his job as curator at the ICA and had become Head of Exhibitions at the Royal Academy. A place he would turn around, but not until his first show there in 1978. Suzi Gablik was an American writer, living in London, the wife of John Russell, art critic for The Times. And Mark Lancaster was a British artist who'd been both the inaugural artist-in-residence at Cambridge University, and had hung out for several weeks with Andy Warhol at the Factory in New York. Surely this list is evidence of Nicholas Logsdail doing an important aspect of his job extremely well, introducing his new artist to a network of highly creative influencers.

Take Bob Law. He would get a retrospective at Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1978. And he had a solo show at Lisson in 1982. Heady days for the now largely forgotten artist. It may be that Nicholas Logsdail wanted Bob Law and On Kawara to meet, after all this next image shows a piece of work by him. A date painting, no more and no less:

Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, the Estate of Bob Law.

Although Law and Kawara were dealing with the same formal elements. (No image. Monochrome. Simply the date on which the painting was made.) The one puts emphasis on pictorial space while On's paintings focus on the date itself. Bob Law's work is generous towards the viewer. That's how it strikes me, anyway. Though I feel that many other viewers, especially in the 1970s, would feel that they were being short-changed. What would On Kawara have thought? He might have thought that Bob was stuck in a transitional place, still wondering what scene to paint rather than focussing on the passing/non-passing of time. It would be interesting to put an 'I MET' list in a dated box, but that was what On Kawara effectively was doing with his typed lists of names on sheets of date-stamped paper.

I don't know whether On Kawara particularly enjoyed being in London, but being entertained by the owner of an avant garde gallery would become an integral part of his life. Planning between them how to get major shows for On Kawara, such as he'd already had at Kunsthalle Bern and the Pompidou Centre, and which he would very much like to have at the Tate, for example. While in the meantime, planning together exquisite shows at these élite spaces run by Konrad Fischer, Nicholas Logsdail, Angela Westwater (New York) and Yves Lambert (Paris), would also take up time. Eating fine food in exclusive places with special people.

Having said that, I feel sure that On Kawara was pining to be back in New York by the beginning of June. He was a successful artist but that did not define him. He was on the verge of international stardom but that was something he did not desire. (No photos. No public statements. No On Kawara at his own openings.) Hiroko Hiraoka, the whole König family, Aoki and Teresa, Nobu and Soroku. These were his people and it was high time he got back to them.


A day of travel to the QE2 at Southampton in readiness for the luxury cruise back to New York.

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

The 'I MET' for June 4 reveals a few rich passengers that On met on the ship and I don't think we need to record those names here. More interesting is that, as on the outward journey, the 'I WENT' suggests that On Kawara got up about a third of the way through the distance the ship travelled from midnight to midnight, which makes perfect sense.

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

Back in New York, On was living with Hiroko at 140 Greene Street. On met Kasper as well as Hiroko on his arrival day (June 8), then saw both Kasper and Ilka on the next two days. One can't read too much into this as On was walking between 140 Greene Street and Wooster Street, so he may have been meeting Ilka and Kasper together or separately. More significantly, On met both Ilka, his estranged wife, and Anna (his new partner?) on June 11 and June 13. Here is the data for June 11:

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

You can just about make out that On only went to one place that day from 140 Greene Street, and that was an address on Wooster Street. Presumably he awoke with Hiroko at 140 Greene Street, visited Ilka at Wooster Street and then met Aurelio Torres, the son of Celia de Torres who lived on the top floor of 140 Greene Street. Which leaves Anna Astner unaccounted for. Did On meet her at his own place or at Ilka's? Let's leave that as an open question for now.

The person that On met most often in June, apart from Hiroko, was Aoki. I think Aoki would still have been helping with the finishing off of 140 Greene Street. Teresa's father was a builder, and on a couple of occasions there were more members of the O'Connor family met by On, such as on June 18:


Certainly, the I WENT for this day 8 shows On being at both 132 and 140 Greene Street, and meeting various members of Aoki's wife's family.

Cecila Buzio de Torres was definitely a neighbour. Her name appears on ten of the June 'I MET' lists. She replied to me about her appearance on a 1978, 'I MET' list, but I'm going to use part of her reply here, as it pertains to the move to 140 Greene Street which was definitely accomplished in 1977.

'Dear Duncan, congratulations on your great project. Probably the reason On wrote my name was because they were moving to 140 Greene St. I was the first to have purchased a loft in the building, and the Kawaharas bought the floor below, and I think they moved in around that date and that is how we met.'

Aoki was first to move into 132 Greene Street. And Cecilia de Torres was first into 140 Greene Street. Kawahara is On's family name which he shortened to Kawara for most purposes.

'Although I am very involved in the art world I didn’t know On was a famous artist. At that time I was struggling to make the space liveable and deal with my three children, who were 10, 13, and 15. My husband who was the painter Horacio Torres had died in 1976. On and Hiroko were great and very patient neighbours, because I am sure my children were noisy.

'On and I probably met in the elevator. It was a very old freight which was hand activated, you pulled a chain to start and pulled the chain in the opposite direction to stop. If you were downstairs and wanted to go to your floor, you had to ring a bell, if the elevator was at my floor I had to go down, pick you up, then you dropped me at my floor before getting to yours. That went on for many years.'

This embellishes what Teresa O'Connor said in an online interview about the elevator at 132 Greene Street. These elevators were designed to have lift attendants. So say On was Date Painting and had been since getting in from going to the postbox and buying cigarettes. The buzzer goes, indicating that someone else, who has just walked into the building wants to use the lift to get to their floor. On puts down his brush and walks to the elevator. He pulls the chain and the elevator goes down to the ground floor. It is Nobu. They greet each other. Nobu steps in and On pulls the chain again and they go up to the second floor while passing the time of day. Nobu gets out, thanks On, who pulls the chain and takes himself up to the sixth floor. He gets out and resumes his Date Painting. After a few minutes the buzzer goes again. He puts down his paintbrush and walks to the elevator which he takes down to the ground floor. It is Cecilia and her three children. They all get in the lift. On stops the lift at the sixth floor and gets out, knowing that he is off the hook. Cecilia takes the lift up to the seventh and top floor. Is she stuck on lift duties for the rest of the day? Maybe she could get out of it by choosing to get out at the ground floor and walk to the top floor. Meanwhile, On must be left thinking that his 'I WENT' Map doesn't quite cut it in the way it used to pre-Greene Street. Vertical movement is not captured. If On stayed in all day at 140 Greene Street, his 'I WENT' would show a single red dot. Whereas in fact he may have been going up and down through the building like a yoyo.

On July 5th, On again met Aoki and Teresa, but also Ilka and Anna.

0025ptb3f4eqp2hriccevppea_thumb_f22d.3i0tyw4gttwz6dvcghwvrw_thumb_f22e Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

The map shows On going from 140 Greene Street and calling in at 132 Greene Street. On this occasion, On didn't visit either 77 or 81 Wooster Street (I'll explain where 81 comes into this in a paragraph or two), so he must have met first Ilka then Anna at 140 Greene Street or elsewhere on the map. The day ended with On again meeting one of Celia de Torres's family. Perhaps Aurelio was met through the palaver of the last person to have used the lift having to act as lift operator when the next person (in this case On Kawara) called for the lift.

In August, Kazuo Okazaki and his wife stayed at 140 Greene Street with On and Hiroko for the first eighteen days of the month. So the place was fit to receive guests by this time! Again Aoki was met twenty times in the month, far eclipsing anyone else except Hiroko and their guest couple.

Let's leave that there and turn to Date Painting. Towards the end of June, On made two Dates in New York. Then four in the middle of July. And two towards the end of August. And one in September. However, the act of Date Painting picked up in the last three months of the year, with 6, 9 and 8 being produced. In other words 23 of the 37 Date Paintings created in 1977 were painted after October 18. Maybe On was getting used to being a part-time lift attendant, integrating the rhythm of it into the rhythm of his Date Painting.

But there is more to say at this point. At the age of almost 41, Hiroko would give birth to a baby boy on April 12, 1978. This implies the baby was conceived approximately nine months earlier, early July 1977. But when would Hiroko have known she was pregnant? Or, rather, in case it had an impact on his work, when would she have communicated the news to On?

Would Hiroko have had any doubts that On would welcome the news? Hiroko and On - such brilliant individuals who had formed such a strong pair-bond - would surely make great parents. And now they owned a loft in Manhattan amongst their long-time friends while also enjoying the support of the Königs. Perfect. The baby would be welcomed, and it would be cared for on all levels. But would On Kawara be able to carry on his work in the totally committed way that he had been? That's where a tiny doubt may have lain.

Sometime in August, Hiroko was likely to have told On that she was late with a period, or had missed one. The Kawaras would not have assumed that Hiroko was going to deliver a baby, until she had carried the foetus for three months, miscarriages occurring in about one in three pregnancies in her age group, back then.

There were several meetings with members of the König family from mid-September to mid-October, 1977. Let me remind you, dear reader, that Coco was born in May, 1972, and so was five years old, while Lili was about two years older, say seven. Their mother, Ilka, was 35 and their father, Kasper, was a year younger. It seems to me that Kasper was looking after his two girls during this period. I say that because after that, for the next few weeks, On and Hiroko moved into 81 Wooster Street (in the same block as 77 Wooster Street, but the next door along). Ilka may have taken the opportunity to switch between rented properties. Anyway, On and Hiroko looked after Coco and Lili. Good practice for their own impending child. Coco and Liili crop up on every 'I MET' list from October 15 to November 4, immediately after Hiroko's name. While their actual parents are nowhere mentioned.

pe00025sj0025cquyvewjwg7biwg_thumb_f236.3s6jnspitbwgyexj9jphfq_thumb_f23d Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Looking at the above 'I MET', one wonders if the name Coco, which echoes Lili structurally, was derived from the end of her first name and the beginning of her second name: KoKo. By the way, Toshinori Kuga was also being met every day at this time. A neighbour of Ilka's, possibly. Or perhaps he was staying at 140 Greene Street. But in any case also an intriguing artist and someone who On may have enjoyed talking to.

Looking at the above 'I WENT', one senses that the switch from 140 Greene Street to 81 Wooster Street wouldn't have made a big difference to On Kawara. He still went to 140 Greene Street during the day, where he Date Painted for six days in late October. Though he was sleeping with Hiroko at 81 Wooster Street (the König children would not have been left alone overnight) and his 'I GOT UP' cards were accordingly addressed from there:

pj002bgtp8aqisrw5m002badlcsw_thumb_dbab Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

No getting up late when there were kids to get packed off to school with their faces shining! Moreover, by about the end of October, with Hiroko three or four months pregnant, the Kawaras would be beginning to get their heads around the fact that in a few more months they were going to be actual parents, not just stand-ins.

This parenting of a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old was not just dropped on the Kawaras in 1977. In 1974, having completed a road-trip that took them to California and back, On and Hiroko stayed with the whole König family at 205 East 78th Street, for a fortnight in January. Then, in April, following another road-trip, they stayed with them again, first with the four Königs and then looking after Lili and Coco for ten days or so while their parents were away. On this occasion, in 1974, the kids would have been four and two, so looking after the older girls in 1977 would have been easier. I expect it would have seemed completely natural and appropriate to all concerned. As indeed it was.

Step forward a complicating factor. Enter Leo König, third child of Kasper and Ilka. Here is his first appearance on an 'I MET' list:

qrtwoqecrvqkx002581h1vewg_thumb_f237.zurs3cnvtt002bioggc3p2sfq_thumb_f242 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

The corresponding 'I WENT' map shows that On visited 132 Greene Street that day, and a few places nearby. But the 'I MET' names are worth dwelling on. Apart from Hiroko, the list begins with On's three principle Japanese friends: Soroku, Nobu and Aoki. Though the friendship with Nobu seems to have been falling away since they'd all (the Fukuis, Aoki and the Kawaras) moved into their owner-occupier lofts on Greene Street. Next on the list there is the König family with its latest addition. And the list ends with Teresa O'Connor, Aoki's wife, and Toshinori Kuga, the conceptual artist who On had been meeting just about every day since the stay at 81 Wooster Street.

As an adult (if I can make such a leap, having just introduced him as a new-born), Leo König has gone on to be a gallery owner, and he was interviewed by Nick Paumgarten for The New Yorker in 2005. Paumgarten wrote: 'Koenig was born in New York in 1977, and though he spent less than a year here, he told me he has memories of it—ambient memories… He was Kasper and Ilka’s third child. They were already separated when she became pregnant with him. “Leo was my present to Kasper, to try to make it work again,” she told me. It didn’t. The Koenigs moved to Munich and the marriage ended.' 

I calculate that newly born Leo would have been conceived at the end of January. Perhaps on Ilka's return from being with the Kawaras in Berlin. When she became aware of being pregnant in March or so, and communicated the news to the baby's father, Kasper and Ilka would seem to have resolved to spend more time together. Perhaps that explains some of the ambiguous 'I MET' data for 1977. Kasper and Ilka had - by the beginning of 1977 - already set up separate flats in New York, but they were going to give their relationship another go, based on the challenge and opportunity of raising a third child together.

Fine, but I must take this slowly. What other meetings occurred in November? On met several combinations of Königs, and Anna Astner was met on a single day, November 24, when Kasper, Ilka and the girls were also met. On was moving between 140 Greene Street and 81 Wooster Street, so no conclusion can be drawn.

Back to Hiroko being pregnant. Of the nine Date Paintings made in November, I have seen images of five of them, and four of those are red. Could it be that On chose red as his colour for the Date Paintings in response to this life-changing news? Red for joy? Red for danger? Red for 'stop the bus I want to get off'? But that is Western thinking. In Japan, what does red signify? Red is said to scare away evil spirits and represent protection, strength, peace and power. Just what the doctor ordered!

Now red had been one of the colours used from the beginning of the Date Paintings in 1966. But in that first year, just two out of 241 Date Paintings were red. It was in October to December 1977 that the show of Date Paintings made in 1967 was hanging at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. The cover of the catalogue in itself shows that there were more red paintings in 1967 than in 1966. April 22, April 25, May 11 and May 12, were all red, though there were many black Date Paintings made in late April and early May - in between the red ones - that were not exhibited. So it was not several red paintings made in a row, as in November, 1977.


Indeed, this next page from the catalogue emphasises that black still overwhelmingly predominated in 1967. All 50 paint samples on one page are black, while it looks like maybe 3 out of 50 on the facing page are red. Galleries and clients tended to prefer red Date Paintings to blue or black ones, hence, I suppose, the use of the above image on the cover of the Otis catalogue.

vrsbncj4rvyro0cr4tlvqq_thumb_dbbe Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Another perspective. If you go into David Zwirner's website, there are small colour photos of all of the paintings that were in the 2012 show 'Date Paintings in New York and 136 Other Cities'. Of the 43 that were painted in New York, 34 were black, 4 were blue and 5 were red. Of the 117 painted in other cities, 115 were black and 2 were blue and 0 were red. So the fact that most of the Date Paintings made between October, 1977 and the birth of the Kawaras' first child in April 1978, were red, would seem to be highly significant.

It has to be said that there is a fair sprinkling of red Date Paintings in Candida Hofer's book, which reflects the preference of collectors. But I'm still suggesting that the red in 1977 was signalling On Kawara's emotional state, protective of his wife and child, scaring away evil spirits, once they were fairly sure that Hiroko would be giving birth.

Below are details from the neatly composed photographs in Candida Hofer's book:

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In 2005, the above three Date Paintings were held in collections in Zurich, Geneva and Bern. That's an all-Swiss outcome. I wonder what accounts for that? Maybe it was something to do with the Rolf Preisig show held in Basel in 1977, though the paintings shown there were from 1976. And I have seen a photo of NOV. 23,1977, flaming in its redness, being rescued from a fire at Frankfurt Museum of Modern Art.

The use of cadmium red continued into December. Of the eight December Date Paintings, I've seen reproductions of four, and three of those are red. Ongoing protection, strength and peace on Greene Street? DEC.12,1977 was black. Perhaps On had pulled himself together that day. I don't know about DEC.13 or DEC.19, as I haven't seen reproductions. But I do know about DEC. 20:

gadzxeqztaegvtly1zywtq_thumb_dc1a-2 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Actually, another possibility presents itself. DEC.20,1977 is one of the paintings that was part of the Lisson show in 1978. Below is the full list of ten 1977 paintings:

3uf75wp6qrggbcxtmoilna_thumb_cfc8-2 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.

I don't know what colour November 7 was, but November 8, 14 and 18 were all red. I don't know what colour December 23 was, but December 8 and 20 were red. Five of the eight paintings I've seen reproductions of from the show were red. Perhaps Nicholas Logsdail had whispered into On Kawara's ear during that Sunday lunch with the Corks' and the Willats' that on the whole his clients liked a splash of colour. Perhaps he even put it to the vote amongst the children present for the Sunday lunch:

Nicholas Logsdail: "Come on kids. What's it to be for my gallery, red or black Date Paintings?"

Rory Logsdail, Polly Cork and Adam Cork: "RED!!!"

Time for the final painting of the year. As 1977 was about to roll into 1978. Red for joy? Red for "Help me, Dan."? Red for "As you requested, Mr Logsdail." Or red for 'protection, peace and power'?

qwmb0025z8ytoenl7bsqfexsw_thumb_dc0c-2 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

First bald man: "You are going to be a father."

Second bald man: "Am I really going to be a daddie?"

Third bald, blind man (musing to himself): 'A child is for father. I mean, a child is forever.'

On Kawara's age in days would have been stated in the catalogue produced in 1977 for the show at Otis Art Institute, California, a rare book which I haven't seen. But actually, it has to be said, on December 24, 1977, On Kawara turned 45 years old. Here is the 'I MET' list: which I've colour-coded for clarity:

December 24, 1977
Soroku Toyoshima
Hirotsugu Aoki
Hiroko Hiraoka
Dina Silberman
Masami Kodama
Hiroko Kodama
Anna Astner
Leo Konig
Kasper Konig
Lili Konig
Hiroko Konig
Dan Graham
Maria Nordman

I interpret this to mean On was with Soroku, Aoki and Hiroko after midnight on the 23rd. Ansel Bray's partner, Dina, joined the party on the day itself. The Kodamas were a couple mentioned by Ansell Bray, Masami being an artist, the couple losing their daughter tragically early in her life. Then Anna Astner who I'll be returning to in 1978 and 1979. Then four of the Konigs along with their close friend Dan Graham and Maria Nordman.

All on hand to celebrate On's birthday, though only he would really know what an amazing year he'd just had. I suspect the week in London may be what lingers in some readers minds. But standing on top of Montparnasse Tower with a view of the Pompidou Centre and the vision of what was on display there: what he'd done in those first three months of 1970, exactly five years after the start of it all in a New York loft in 1966. There it was: a view from1977 through 1970 through to 1966. The extended Date Painting centre of On Kawara's existence.

1966 to 1977. How did he do it? 1978 and fatherhood on the horizon. How could he keep doing it?