- January to December: 2, 1, 4, 4, 7, 5, 3, 2, 2, 4, 5, 6. Total 45 Date Paintings + 3 more painted on days already spent Date Painting.
- Akito, age 13 in April. Sahe, 12 in December.
- Significant periods of Date Painting: none, but Date Paintings made in 9 new cities.


An important show was opened to the public in Rotterdam on December 15, 1991. I'll keep coming back to it throughout this essay and the next. The show was 'Date Painting in 89 Cities' and there is a hardback book of 256 pages that went with it and which was the first On Kawara book I ever owned. I bought it in Dillon's Art Bookshop, London, for £8.50 in 1996, having flicked through it with great interest a few times since it first appeared there in 1993, when its retail price was £34. The volume was reduced to half-price in a sale, but still no-one bought it, not even me for some reason (saving up for my next pint?). Whether to purchase it or not for less than a tenner was one of those easy decisions in life.

On its acknowledgements page, Wim Crouwel, the Director of Museum Boymans-van Beuningenn, states that his team had first got in contact with On Kawara two years before. That would have been during the run of 'Again and Against'. Perhaps the Dutch museum's curators had seen that earlier show in Frankfurt. I mention that because Kasper König is not acknowledged in this book, but that doesn't mean he was not indirectly responsible for its existence and format.

'Date Paintings in 89 Cities' is a show that could have been mounted - on a lesser scale but on the same principle - many years before. On painted Dates in 25 cities in 1973 alone. In 1975, the equivalent, cumulative show would have been called 'Date Paintings in 64 Cities'. But the show that did happen around then (at Bern then Brussels) was 'One Year's Production', showing not just the Dates but all the other series from 1973, so that help explains the delay in the show presently under discussion actually materialising.

In 1979, the show would have been 'Date Paintings in 69 Cities'. But again the show that did actually happen in 1980 (beginning at Stockholm and travelling to Essen, Eindhoven and Osaka) was 'On Kawara: continuity/discontinuity' showing the totality of the work made between 1966 and 1979. On Kawara didn't do much Date Painting in new cities after that, focussing on the rearing of Akito and Sahe, but he did start moving around again, and Date Painting while he did so, in 1990, and he Date Painted in no less than nine new cities in 1991, while this bold new show was in the advanced stages of planning.

The first of the new cities in 1991 was Rotterdam itself. It would make sense to Date there, making Rotterdam one of the cities that would have a presence in this show that was partly about all the particular cities that On Kawara had visited, and, in passing time in each one, commemorating that with a Date Painting. Here is how the Rotterdam painting looked on the walls of the '89 Cities' show, and how it looks in pages of the 89 Cities book:

drfefqm5slinkkimh60025apg_thumb_1043e Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Putting Rotterdam on the map!

The two pages of clippings that On Kawara filed in 'I READ" for March 6, 1991, taken from the March 7 newspapers are messier. Below is one of them:

rouounyprhervhxlkoqjnw_thumb_1043f Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

It would seem that On Kawara had some kind of handle on the Dutch language. As he even seemed to have on Catalan (remember the five paintings made there in January 1990). Enough to select certain articles and mark them up as having some kind of significance to him, anyway.

Just two days later, On made a Date Painting in Dusseldorf. He had been there many times before, of course, as it is the city where Konrad Fischer had his contemporary art galley, venue for so many groundbreaking shows by Richard Long, Gilbert and George, Carl Andre, On Kawara, etc. But he hadn't Date Painted there before and it must have seemed like a no-brainer to do so now. Date Paintings in 90-odd cities but not Dusseldorf. That wouldn't have been fair on Konrad!

n4ttaxh5trcmvewxteg5qq_thumb_df06 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

On Kawara then returned to New York and was content to paint there until the summer. We'll catch up with him in June.


In the meantime, Kasper Konig was stirring again in Frankfurt. As I mentioned, he was Professor of Art at the art school there and perhaps that led to the second On Kawara show in two years in the place that he would work from 1988 to 2000. But whereas the first one, 'On Kawara: Again and Against', at Portikus, had juxtaposed 23 Date Paintings with works by other artists over 24 years, this show, perhaps bolstered by the knowledge that 'Date Paintings in 89 Cities' was in preparation, was to be hardcore.

Paintings from each of the years 1966 to 1990. No mention of where the Dates were painted (many were painted in New York, but not all). No presentation of the newspaper-lined boxes (not on the walls of the gallery anyway).

2gruwxwpramz6wq5p3rm7a_thumb_10440 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Did I say hardcore? The only text in the accompanying catalogue, On Kawara, contains a text by René Denizot. This echoes König's efforts to secure a text by Denizot in 1974, writing to the Bern director to say that Denizot should be written to and the English translation of his text commissioned. Which it was. Once again, a specially written Denizot text is presented in three languages. First, in German over six pages. Then in French (the language in which, I suspect, it would have been written) over five pages. Then in English over five pages. It's only the English version, 'Painting, Or Nothing', I can make anything of, but even here comprehension is elusive. One has to have respect for the text as On Kawara spent a lot of time talking with René Denizot in the 1970s. He crops up in 'I MET' lists in New York, Halifax (Nova Scotia) and Paris. He was a recipient of eight 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams in 1973 and 1974. On Kawara and Rene Denizot enjoyed communicating with each other. Thus one has to read the following with reverence:

'To paint for painting's sake is hobby, already the sign of idleness, revelatory of presence in the world free from the appalling urgency of basic needs, given up to another urgency, panic, exceeding any need, that of exertion, that of existence, to which the unpacking time exposes us. A being of leisure, liberty of nothing.'

Actually, that's very good if one gives it time. Let's try the next sentence:

'Art had to be invented so that a new beginning and end could exist; a limit and threshold of appearance and disappearance, the exposing of a mortal being, where there is time.'

I can see Kasper Konig walking around the Museum for Modern Art in Frankfurt with his daughter, Coco, now 19. Coco reads aloud from her father's hard-fought for (I've little doubt) catalogue:

'The 'Today' series of Date Paintings does not totalise anything. It cannot be reduced to the repetition of the same canvas. The methodical repetition of the pictorial act, defined by the painting of the date on a canvas, is not the declension of a concept that each canvas reproduces like a serial number in a history of dated and graded painting. The image of painting is retrospective and tautological. It belongs to the cultural and historical identity of art. It is the product of an ideology, a readymade. It has no need of a pictorial act. By definition limited to the convention of the date and of the canvas, the image of painting is reduced to the artifices necessary to the situation of a pictorial act, which by the choice of its conditions incriminates the tautological transparency of its allegiance to art and distinguishes the signs of transparency still to be produced, that of painting itself, whose difference, essentially deferred, is a remainder - unless it is the repeated exhibition, outside the dated painting, of an untimely present of painting.'

Coco: "Are you telling me that that means anything?"

Kasper: "The key sentence is 'The image of painting is retrospective and tautological. Once you have understood that, the rest follows."

Coco: "I don't think so."

Kasper: "You need to work at it."

Coco: "Perhaps I choose not to. Maybe I will sell my Date Painting, as at this moment I'm being made to think of it as the manifestation of a lot of pretentious nonsense."

Kasper: "That would be your loss."

They had both stopped in front of JULY 26, 1972. Kasper had refrained from borrowing Coco's MAY 5, 1972 for this show. Kasper borrows the catalogue from his daughter. Rather, he tweaks it out of her grasp.

Kasper: "We do not work for duration but for endurance. The patience of time that the world experiences as its suspension, its epoch, requires those signs of nothing that artifices are."

Coco: "Jesus, Dad!"

This exclusively Frankfurt show opened on June 6, 1991. On Kawara wasn't present and didn't see it up on the walls at all. Perhaps he felt he was familiar enough with the Date Paintings presented in this simple, chronological, relentless way.

On June 9, a series of photographs were made of On Kawara painting JUNE 8, 1991. A book was made of this event, though not until three years later. On Kawara's biography is stated as 21,351 days at the back of the book, just three days more than the 21,348 days that appears in the catalogue of the Frankfurt show. So that seems to hang together. Here are the two books' front covers:


In other words, three days after the opening of his solo show in Frankfurt, which he did not see, On Kawara was visited in his New York studio by photographer, Henning Weidemann. I wonder if Kasper König set this up. He was behind so many of On Kawara's smart moves within the art world and within the world of art publishing. But he is not mentioned in the latter book's very brief acknowledgments (Hiroko is thanked), which was printed in a town near Stuttgart (Froelich territory), though not, as I say, until 1994.

Having given Kasper König his due, it may have been On Kawara's idea. Having made several photos of his making process in a studio in Rome in 1990, he may have felt that to lengthen and formalise the exercise would be an interesting development. For me, it as an essential little book. For sure, On Kawara did not use templates in the drawing of the characters therein. The drawing of the three 9's alone, with their circles on top of their stands, tells us this much.

While On Kawara put together (drew and painted) JUNE 9,1991, his visitor set up a camera and took a set of 64 photos of the making process, from 9.21am to 9.20pm. That's a painting (as far as the characters were concerned) that began with verticals, continued with other straight elements, and ended with the painting of the three 9s in the composition. In other words, On tackled the easier parts of the Date first.

0025uwm8gistq002bhexv002bwdkgww_thumb_df50 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the photographer, Henning Weidemann, and One Million Years Foundation.

Let's compare the set-up at Rome with that at 140 Greene Street:

27 OTT. 1990 JUNE 9, 1991
No clock Clock
No ashtray Ashtray
Support - a glass Support unseen
Hairdryer Hairdryer
First painted '1' of 1990 First painted same '1' of 1991 or 'J' of June.
Last painted '7' of '27' Last painted second '9' of 1991

As we'll see, On Kawara recorded his painting process again in 1992. So I will expand on the above table when I get to the 1992 essay.

There is not much else to be said about On Kawara's time in New York. His 13-year old boy, Akito, and eleven-year-old girl, Sahe, would still be taking up some of his quality time, of course. The friendships with Aoki and Soroku endured, but Nobu, following his divorce to Miyuki in 1979, had had to sell his loft on the second floor of 140 Greene Street and had moved to a town in upstate New York after few months of homelessness. He'd also had to give Miyuki his art collection as part of the settlement. That included both an 'I GOT UP' card and a Date Painting that On had given him. As for their relationship, in Nobu's words: 'On and I drifted apart without any incident'. Without 'I MET' and 'I WENT', I can't say any more about this.

That summer, On went to Japan with his family as usual. Only, he made a point (it seems to me) of Date Painting in a few new locations. He'd already painted in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, Sapporo, Nagoya and Naha between 1970 and 1989. In summer of 1991 he added Singapore and Hiroshima. Singapore was a British colony, so the format is month first, and the newspaper is printed in English:

bpj7vqk2tm002bjcsedxeeycg_thumb_df07 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

I wonder what then took On Kawara to Hiroshima. Perhaps it was a city he particularly wanted to be in '89 Cities' because of its history. How deadpan is the resulting work? Not a hint of 6 AUG.1945 about it. Though I've no idea what is said on the extract of the Hiroshima newspaper enclosed in the box.

xr0025lavuzrmwlyt9bn6mdxq_thumb_df08 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Perhaps it's right that the atomic explosion should not be directly referenced. The radiation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki today, is on a par with the extremely low levels of background radiation (natural radioactivity) present anywhere on Earth. A level that has no effect on human bodies. Roughly 80% of all residual radiation from the blasts was emitted within 24 hours. Not that the citizens of Japan knew that at the time. Paranoia about nuclear fall-out persisted for decades. As long as 24 July, 1991? Well, On was happy enough to visit the rebuilt city, so that says something.

On chose to return to New York via Anchorage in Alaska, and he took the opportunity of Date Painting there. It was the most northerly city yet, and meant that he'd Date Painted throughout much of North America.

widuillkrx002be0025dzl1czy7g_thumb_df09 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

It doesn't surprise me that On Kawara painted Dates in nine new cities in 1991. Apart from a single one in Tokyo and thirty-odd in New York, he didn't Date Paint in any other cities he'd previously Date Painted in. Does 'Date Painting in 89 Cities' sound more impressive than 'Date Painting in 80 Cities'? It does to me, especially when you take into account the significance of which the last few cities were.

After spending about month in New York, On flew to Europe again and made Date Paintings in London and Hamburg. It would not have been a good idea to leave London out of 'Date Painting in 89 Cities', for several reasons. Firstly, it was a major world city in many respects. Culture: New York, Paris, London. Finance: New York, London, Hong Kong. Empire: British, Roman, Greek. Secondly, art career considerations. Neither Nicolas Logsdail nor Nicholas Serota would have been impressed if London had not been represented. And On Kawara still very much had ambitions for his work to be more widely seen and better known in Britain. So he had to keep certain individuals on his side.

002bnrquu3ariiyx1c4zbruug_thumb_df0a Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Quite a dull page from The Times placed in the box, it has to be said. Perhaps that says something about On Kawara's relationship with London.

What about 'I READ'? More going on there and with an international perspective:

das4k7dqttu8fusn1b3vig_thumb_10441 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Of course, On Kawara would have wanted to Date in Hamburg because that would be the second venue, another European port, of the '89 Cities' show come March, 1992.

ojni4sroreu1dw26toon0025w_thumb_df0b Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Headlines on the above pages are:

'The Pitfalls of Sexual Harassment'

'Strength of the Bundeswehr preserved'

'Work sets you free'

Much more interesting than London. On Kawara must have been so much more comfortable in Germany than in Great Britain.

The 'I READ' for the same day seems to focus on a child's bike accident on a Budapest street. The result of the trouble in the Balkans?

xbqucglhqz2czcxcy5ofda_thumb_10442 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Back to New York for November, but in December On flew again to Europe. This time it couldn't have been in order to add new cities to the '89 Cities' show, because, no more cities could be included in the catalogue, which must by then have been in production. Maybe On had just got bitten by the travel bug again, as he had been in the 1970s. He Date Painted in Milan and Vienna, new cities both.

Below is a resumé of 1991 Dates in new cities:

6.3.91 Rotterdam. (First venue of 89 Cities)
8.3.1991 Dusseldorf.
30.6.91 Singapore.
24.7.91 Hiroshima.
27.8.91 Anchorage.
2.10.91 London.
10.10,91 Hamburg. (Second venue for 89 Cities in March 1992.)
13.12.91 Milan. (Too late for inclusion in 89 Cities show.)
29.12.91 Vienna. (Ditto.)

The fact that Anchorage is in Alaska, means that On travelled far and wide in 1991. He may have recorded as many Dates in 1968, but all of these were in South America. Similarly, he may have made more Dates in 1973, but the majority of those were while road-tripping across the United States. In 1991 he was zooming back and forth across the Atlantic and the Pacific. I feel I should map the 1991 movements from a New York perspective. The two blue pins are On's bases in New York and Tokyo. The red pins are cities he hadn't made Date Paintings in before 1991:


Six of the nine cities were in Europe, already much explored. If On had been wanting to make his coverage of the world more comprehensive, he would have done well to stop off in east or south Africa, and Russia.

This was the year On Kawara first painted a Date in the UK. He travelled to London to do so, for a reason previously stated, but also knowing that he was contracted to provide Date Paintings for a show at Lisson Gallery in summer 1992. A show I attended and which started off this whole enterprise, as I've written about here.

On's two bases of New York and Tokyo are on roughly the same latitude. The quickest way to fly between them is across the Pacific rather than over the Atlantic and Asia. Though sometimes On may have wanted to stop in Europe on the way back to New York from Japan, in which case he would have done better to fly across Asia and/or the Middle East. I'll look out for that happening, but in 1991, On flew from New York to Europe and back in the spring. Then to Japan and back via Anchorage in the summer. Then to Europe and back, twice, in the second half of the year.

Sadly, we can't tell on which trips he was accompanied by Hiroko and/or the kids. It is easy to assume On was travelling on his own, except to and from Japan, but that's what I thought about his travelling in the 1970s until I saw the 'I MET' lists. Hiroko was often by his side.

I'll leave you with the cover of On Kawara: Date Painting in 89 Cities. Though it doesn't show a single installation shot from the Rotterdam installation or anywhere else. The printing seems to have been done before the tour got underway, so the individual paintings are photographed - solemnly and substantially - above their newspaper-lined boxes, as I've illustrated seven times in this chapter.


3000 copies were printed. If you see it in a shop or online at less than £100, it's a steal. On Abebooks right now there are two copies for less than £40, plus postage from Germany. Probably from Kasper König's own pile of them. As I said, a steal.

Last words to René Denizot, as read aloud by Kasper König in the Museum of Modern Art in Frankfurt in the presence of his daughter:

'What runs through the 'Date Paintings' is the cosmic, comic situation of an earthling on the move. No doubt, On Kawara the planetary tourist is worked on by the present. Neither more nor less than another, as a man of his times. To be there, here, now? The exacting obtrusion, the question of the present. Existence is astonishment, ecstatic openness of the given, of the dated, to the unveiling of the signs that the present gathers as the gift of exteriority.'

"Nice one, Dad. You had me there. Nearly to the end… Where is On anyway? No, don't answer that."

Coco goes it alone around the whole show, from the very beginning:




DEC.16, 1969: "I AM STILL ALIVE."


MAR. 3, 1971: "I AM STILL ALIVE."




DEC. 8, 1975: "I AM STILL ALIVE."


NOV. 23, 1977: "I AM STILL ALIVE."











MAY 11, 1988: "I AM STILL ALIVE."


JAN. 30, 1990: "I AM STILL ALIVE."

Father and daughter stand side by side in the middle of the gallery, in the middle of the city, in the infinite monkey cage.

Should I add: 'Weeping together.'?

No. Less is more. Nothing less is more. Next chapter