ON GOT UP
(and didn't Pontus Hultén just know it)
New York, 1972
(part one)



I'm waiting for Art Gallery, Ontario, to provide me with tantalising 'I MET' info re 1972. So I thought I might as well turn the waiting into a positive by digging into data that Moderne Museet, Stockholm, has made available online. The complete set of 'I GOT UP' sent by On Kawara in New York to its director, Pontus Hultén in summer of that same year. You see how this project connects four distant corners of the world? Stockholm, New York, Ontario, Blairgowrie.


Do I really mean to do such a task? Because scanning 117 cards, both sides, and then plotting where the picture-side was photographed on a map will need a lot of processing. It's the sort of job that On Kawara himself would have relished, with his powers of concentration and his intensity. But I'm not On Kawara. Still, on balance - and not wanting to obsess on what is or isn't dropping into my Inbox - I have decided to give it a go.

The set of cards are all visible on the Moderne Museet's website, but they are not in the right order. And occasionally the picture side is out of of synch with the message side. In other words, it is not apparent how much of a pattern On Kawara was building up, postcard by postcard. I will bring attention to any such pattern. So let's get started…


2h4ogytzsfyw5lldyunbhq_thumb_eb32 kfymjj51thscpelvlqtitq_thumb_eb29 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation. Photo reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

The Triborogh Bridge is On Kawara's entry point. That's the farthest north blue circle in the following map. What do all the blue circles (the first eight cards sent) have in common? You can see the United Nations headquarters (grey circle) from them, as the picture side of these first eight postcards demonstrates. Now who would have guessed that? What's more they go in order from north to south and east to west as they hone in on the UN.

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The black circle, lower left on the above map, is 340 East 13th Street, where On Kawara GOT UP each morning.

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In the second postcard, above, the UN building is little more obvious. But On Kawara was in no rush to make clear his intentions. I doubt if Pontus Hultén would have had any idea where this was going, as of receipt of the third card, below:

mkfygbb2sogoojhmbur6pa_thumb_eb2b s91gqsxmq2e4mae45t6rbg_thumb_eb2a Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation. Photo reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

A reminder of that first map. There will be three cards featuring the United Nations Building taken from across the East River, as this one. Then the cards that focus exclusively on the UN.

k1m0025ex2nsg200258bkothosia_thumb_eb14 wm5vybloq8k1njofxlsb4w_thumb_eb15 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation. Photo reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Moderna Museet, Stockholm.


Why the UN? Well, the United Nations may have been the most important building in New York as far as On Kawara was concerned. So many of the subtitles of his Date Paintings concern warring nations. He made a Date Painting on May 18, whose subtitle reads: "Four bomb-disposal experts parachuted into the Mid-Atlantic from a British Royal Air Force plane today and boarded the Queen Elizabeth 2 after an anonymous caller threatened to blow up the luxury liner unless a ransom was paid." Perhaps not a big enough problem for the UN to get involved with, but you catch my drift.

Actually, the May 18 'GOT UP' card is missing. It's the only one of a 118-card sequence that wasn't delivered to Stockholm and retained by the museum's director. I am certain this card would have shown the United Nations building. Anyway, on with the show:

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May 19 was also a Date Painting day. The subtitle reads: "A huge crowd led by students gathered in Tananarive, Madagascar's capital, today and roared demands that President Philibert Tsiranana resign within 24 hours." United Nationsesque? I would say so, this building would be abuzz with the political situation in Madagascar on May 19.

But what's this?

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The UN Building empty? Well, no, that's just the main hall. The building is full of offices where the staff would be working.

On May 21 (see below), On did not get up until shortly after noon. I expect this means he was playing mah jongg all night with Soroku, Aoki and Takashima, or some such group of Japanese New York artists. But I don't know. That's the sort of information I'm hoping to get from Art gallery Ontario, though I've specifically asked for the months of February, August and November. Not May. It is important that I keep my requests relatively modest. I almost wish I lived in Ontario. Just as I almost wish I lived in New York. The one thing that stops me wishing either of these things is the knowledge that you can't live in two places at once.

grwqg9hxrk6j002bzc9ltiw6q_thumb_eb1a 90yhqdpiscaprtxt002bmzelw_thumb_eb19 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation. Photo reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

On Kawara never sent the same postcard twice to Pontus Hultén. (I've looked through them all while downloading the material.) Though sometimes two cards will look similar. The organising principle is completely opposite to when Dan Graham was sent 120 cards in 1970, every one being the same view of the Statue of Liberty. Though, come to think of it, the Statue of Liberty does feature on all 117 postage stamps this time around.

wivkw5vmtfu0sdzpjnt21q_thumb_eb1e syhmmbaarcofayzxchi7oq_thumb_eb1d Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation. Photo reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

And now for a complication to the pattern that will be the case throughout the summer's 'I GOT UP', from May 14 to September 7. Occasionally, On Kawara took a day out of New York. On these occasions he drove to the village of Roscoe with Hiroko, sometimes with a friend or two from the city, and they enjoyed a day-out in the countryside. May 22 was the first of these days, so that when he awoke on May 23 he was in upstate New York.

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He returned to New York later that day and continued from where he left off. I should say that 'I WENT', which he was also producing on a daily basis at this time, would not seem to be specifically relevant here. I strongly doubt whether On Kawara would have actually visited the United Nations building on each of those aforementioned days in May. Instead, he was effectively creating an imaginary 'I WENT' map for a four-month period. An imaginary map with actual visits to Roscoe.

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kccr8jvxrraunmlza002by002bhw_thumb_eb1c Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation. Photo reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

Now the above image is the same picture that I used for May 19. I need to explain that just as May 18 was the single postcard that Pontus Hultén did not receive, so May 19 was the only postcard that Peter Grimner at Moderna Museet, Stockholm, did not post an image of onto the museum's website. So, for May 19 I used the aerial view in lieu of the missing picture.

10 down, 110 to go. Are you sitting comfortably, dear reader? Have you bought into this exercise in psychogeography? Please stick with it if you can, there is something to be cumulatively gained.

On his return from Roscoe, On Kawara spent one night at 340 East 17th Street, then moved to the König family's place at 65 East Broadway, where he lived for a couple of weeks or so. Time for another map. This time it is the green circles that represent where the picture side of the postcards were taken from.

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What do the pictures show? They all (except the top one) show Lower Manhattan, which is where On Kawara was sleeping at night on East Broadway. And they go strictly downriver, though some are from elevated viewpoints and some are from one side of the East River or the other. As you'll see.

The first one is the exception, in that it is not a picture of Lower Manhattan, but of the East Side Airlines Terminal. Let's call it a transition image.

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You can still see the United Nations building close to the right edge of the next postcard. But I think that's incidental.

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Guided by the vision of On Kawara, we make our way south, still looking at Manhattan from Brooklyn.

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In the above pic, it's Brooklyn Bridge on the left and Manhattan bridge on the right of the photo. East Broadway, where On Kawara and Hiroko were sleeping for 17 nights, is an extension of the Manhattan Bridge.

And again, in the picture below, though the viewpoint is from a point high above mid-river, we're still looking at Lower Manhattan. As the caption says, the Statue of Liberty is glimpsed far in the distance, top left.

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That's Manhattan Bridge running along the bottom of the above image.

In the next picture, we look across at Lower Manhattan from under the other bridge in the above image, that's Brooklyn Bridge.


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The reason that On was located at 65 East Broadway for so long may have been because Kasper König was working away from New York (I've been told that his name doesn't appear on any 'I MET' from May 25 to June 10), and Ilka, his wife, didn't want to be left alone with her baby. It would make good neighbourly sense that On and Hiroko kept Ilka and the baby company. After all, the baby had been named Hiroko after On's remarkable partner.

May 29, 1972
Hiroko Hiraoka
Ilka Katharina Schellenberg
Hiroko Konig

What a lovely thing these 'I MET' lists can be. Understated to the nth degree. The interest in them has to be worked for. But let's concentrate on the 'I GOT UP' cards whose interest, beauty and integrity also has to be worked for.

The next postcard is not quite the same as the last one. For a start, the boat churning through the water is a different colour.

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Would you say that we, the viewers, are going nowhere fast? Or are we adjusted to what On has in mind for us: a long, slow, mysterious tour of New York, circa 1972?

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The above card brings a sub-sequence to an end. Because the next card jumps quite a lot further south, in order to then creep back north.

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This map (see below) shows what I mean. The first two orange circles are the cards for JUNE 1 (above) and JUNE 2 (below). Then the cards that follow, JUNE 3-10 take aim at Lower Manhattan from the south. But I'm getting head of myself. Or, rather I'm getting ahead of On.

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It also seems to be the case that at key geographical points, On Kawara will send two similar, consecutive postcards, possibly in case one of them goes missing in the post. Or just to emphasise the point. This Verrazano Bridge marks the southern point of On's circuit.

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Not sure I should be changing the pace, but I will for now. The next six cards are all different, but not very different. The views are nearly (but not quite) the same, and, in each case, On Kawara sent the card from the same address, 65 East Broadway. And the getting up times?

l7y8peu9tasexpbgv2v14g_thumb_ec18 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation. Photo reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

Early getting up times, four of them shortly after eight and then two even earlier.

Anyway, I don't think I will be doing that very often in this exercise, changing the pace. On Kawara has set the pace and who am I to vary it?

Oh, and I should say that On Kawara made Date Paintings on June 4, 6 and 8. The subtitle for JUNE 6 reads: "Delegates to the United Nations environmental conference in Stockholm approved today an appeal to all countries to minimise the release of toxic metals and chemicals into the environment."

This underlines why On Kawara chose to focus on the United Nations at the beginning of this work. The mentioning of Stockholm might have prompted On Kawara to have gone off course to remind Pontus Hulten of the United Nations headquarters. But, no, he kept to his preconceived itinerary.

The JUNE 9 card is special in that it's the one that On Kawara had made use of every day for four months in 1970, sending 'I GOT UP' to Dan Graham at 84 Eldridge Street, New York.

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Why send 120 different views of New York to a New Yorker? Why, indeed. So On Kawara stuck to a single postcard 120 times. The. Statue. Of. Liberty. Got it, Dan? The. Statue. Of. Liberty.

Oh, but hang on. When On Kawara came back with Hiroko from Mexico City to New York on April 1, 1969, he began a 120-postcard sequence to Konrad Fischer in Dusseldorf. That sequence was all different cards. The sequence began with the above view of the Statue of Liberty, and it ended 119 cards later with a different postcard showing the Statue of Liberty from another angle. So the importance of the S.O.L. as a symbol was not just a Dan Graham thing.

Only two cards featuring the Statue of Liberty this time around, and both are different. Below is the second one, which was the card that ended the series to Konrad Fischer in 1969:

1tji0mdysfwhtkvikkfika_thumb_eb54 8ak1iozus002bynydd5yke6wq_thumb_eb55 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation. Photo reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

Another way of describing this card (above) is to say that, like all six I reduced to postage stamp size, it looks north to the skyline of Lower Manhattan.


That is about a quarter of the way through this whole exercise. The following map shows all the sites so far (plus a few more), and shows that after a quick survey of the deep water channel between Manhattan and New Jersey, reaching a northerly boundary of George Washington Bridge (two purple circles) On comes back down the channel, using images of ships, makes landfall at Battery Park in Manhattan, and begins an in depth survey of buildings in Manhattan (purple circles).

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But first the quick look up the water where the large ships go (because there are no bridges, until George Washington Bridge, to impede their passage).

Below is the postcard represented by the isolated orange circle in mid-channel in the above map. Note the stay at 65 East Broadway is now over. On Kawara is back at his 340 East 13th Street address, the further north of the two black circles on the above map.

ehgqzzldtriwq85j7ki6ww_thumb_eb57 zrcu9uolrrm86x5zdgvu2g_thumb_eb56 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation. Photo reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

Then a short, second digression to Roscoe for the day, leaving the city on June 1 so as to spend the night at the Hendrix Motel and wake there on the morning of June 12.

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Then back to the main circuit from where we left off before going to Roscoe. Those big ships in harbour…

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The cards for JUNE 14 and JUNE 15, then mark the northern point of the whole circuit. Again the motif duplicated for some reason.

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As I mentioned, On Kawara takes us back downstream via two images of enormous passenger liners.

owlfzvthsvqhtth1kzemva_thumb_eb5e vp8h9pmotfqc7xneavi0wg_thumb_eb69 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation. Photo reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

In the above image, the QE2 is going the wrong way, as it were, upstream. But On only has the postcards that exist in the real world to choose from. Occasionally he has to accept compromises to his vision. No such compromise necessary in respect of the next image:

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Picture the above ship making a screeching stop and turn to the port side to let On Kawara disembark at Battery Park on the south edge of Lower Manhattan. Let's recap. We have been down the east side of Manhattan, where the bridges are. We have paused awhile at the southerly end of New York, looking north at the city, and we have explored the shipping channel down the west side of Manhattan, the channel that keeps New York more separated from New Jersey than it is from Brooklyn. And now we are ready to explore Manhattan itself!

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It feels good to place one's feet on the solid earth, at last. If you want tourist notes, please read the printed words on the back of the postcards.

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We are going to be walking towards where On Kawara lives on East 13th Street. But will we actually get to his front door? Doesn't seem likely given the commercial nature of these postcards.

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Just in case I set up any unrealistic expectations with my last paragraph, let me show a map that shows the progress of On's next ten or so 'I GOT UP' postcards. As you can see, starting off at Battery Park, bottom left of map, the cards proceed north but do not get very close to On's living quarters. The sequence is systematic and self-referential in all sorts of ways, but there are limits.

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Next:

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It looks like our intrepid photographer took that last photo from the top of a neighbouring skyscraper. Certainly, there is one there in 2023. The unknown (not On) photographer was back down on ground level for the next few pictures.

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I don't suppose On Kawara was ever granted a formal welcome in front of City Hall. Greeted by the Mayor, then enjoying a ticker-tape parade up Broadway, with photographers recording his every move? No, I don't think that was ever on.

Right, I'm going to speed up a bit as we go from Foley Square to Chinatown, where we linger for three I GOT UP cards.

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I wonder, in passing, which of these places regularly turn up on the daily 'I WENT' maps. I only have a repro of one of those for the entire May-September period, and you'll be seeing that on the next page of this essay. Yes, this is a two-pager, for practical reasons

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At this point, fairly close to 340 East 13th Street, On and Hiroko chose to go to Roscoe for a third day. I mean, On had got up shortly after 5am so as to get to Roscoe at an early enough time to enjoy the rest of the day. And the next day he awoke in the Hendrix Motel:

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As before, On came back to New York and took up from where he left off. So in this next card one can see Washington Arch.

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Just along from Washington Arch and Square is Greenwich Village. This is on the edge of the East Side, where On lived, but the definition of art in Greenwich Village is somewhat different.

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"There don't seem to be any Date Paintings, darling."

"They must have all gone already."

"Not much Vietnam stuff either."

"Let's ask Vincent sitting there if he would do one for us. I mean a Date Painting."

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"Do you nice, white folk want to buy a Date Painting?"

"Doesn't everybody?"

"What date?"

"Why, today of course, JULY 2, 1972."

"Coming right up, little lady."

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'Now the homes of artists and writers?' It says Not the ones I'm interested in. They were living in lofts and apartments on the East side.

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Those two pics were taken at Madison Square Gardens. How I wish these cards had been sent to: DUNCAN MCLAREN, 8 TOWNHILL ROAD, HAMILTON, LANARKSHIRE, SCOTLAND, GREAT BRITAIN.

Not these last two cards in particular, but the whole set. Though I'm reminded of this by the July 6, 1972 date. That was the Thursday evening that David Bowie sang 'Starman' on Top of the Pops. Perhaps Bowie's appearance plus 'I GOT UP' cards would have been too much for a reserved teenager. Anyway, I'm not complaining. And I know Pontus Hulten treasured the cards. He would go on to play an important role in developing On Kawara's career.

So where have we got to? In the map below, the move from purple circles to olive circles merely reflects the shift from June dates to July dates. Washington Square is the olive circle (with a white collar) at the top of the map. The next few postcard pictures are from this Midtown area.

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Well, no, first another night in Roscoe. No longer staying at the Hendrix Motel, notice, but at Butternut Grove Campsite.

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Let me introduce the 'I MET' info that I have for this first Butternut Grove Campsite visit:

July 7, 1972
Hiroko Hiraoka
Jackie Yamen

I suspect Jackie Yamen was something to do with the accommodation, perhaps she managed the camp, and that On and Hiroko had come out from New York on their own. Back in New York later that day, On an Hiroko met no-one. The next day, On Kawara's 'I GOT UP' card shows Herald Square, which, on the previous map, is the next olive circle east from Washington Square.

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The next picture is taken from a high point in Midtown and it shows, amongst other skyscrapers, the Empire State Building.

dznowgxosdymwpfurk84cg_thumb_eb97 ji6xv10025irdmbtnhig6s9mw_thumb_eb92 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation. Photo reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

Which is as far as I'm going to take this exercise on this page. The essay will be completed on the next page. The 'I GOT UP' that follows is near enough the half-way mark in this ambitious artwork.

390xsvqhtzwvg2hcv2npxw_thumb_eb98 6t002bwfqpwsm2wit0025bdoyemq_thumb_eb99 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation. Photo reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

Remember that in 1969, back in New York after a year in Mexico and South America, Hiroko wrote to Kasper König saying that On hoped to get a studio high in the Empire State Building, the only trouble being that there wouldn't be enough AIR in the room to make a good Date Painting.

Remember this too (I do):

"There's a starman waiting in the sky,
He'd like to come and meet us,
But he thinks he'd blow our minds.
There's a starman waiting in the sky
He's told us not to blow it,
'Cause he knows it's all worthwhile."

At this point On Kawara included three, near-identical views of the Empire State building. The one above being the first and the one below being the second.

wcxmtug4tamiwtip08pscq_thumb_eba1 nrklzv4mqeawpj5hzrjk6q_thumb_eba3 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation. Photo reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

Many good things come in threes. I'm thinking of runs in mah jongg. When On Kawara won a game, which he very often did, he would have a single pair and four sets of three tiles.

"He told me:
Let the children lose it,
Let the children use it,
Let all the children boogie."

Let's remind ourselves too what Nobu Fukui said about On playing mah-jongg while Date Painting, the On who Nobu had already told me was the best player of them all by far:
'We started in the early evening, and On normally brought a painted canvas with the date pencilled out, all he had to do was to paint. Sometimes he came with a blank canvas, painted the canvas and played the game while the paint was getting dry. A few times he was losing the game and he didn't stop playing and could not finish the painting. On these occasions he removed the canvas and put it in a trash can. Once he was painting, and it was getting close to 12:00 midnight. His concentration and intensity was mind-boggling to some of us watching him. The clock I had in the living area in the loft struck midnight. "Congratulations!" I said, the painting looked perfect to me. He stood up and said "No good! It's one minute past midnight." He was looking at this big wristwatch on his left hand. I said. "Come on, I was watching the clock and you finished at least 30 seconds before midnight." No, I only trust this watch, it's perfectly accurate. He said that if he doesn't follow his own rules strictly, his work becomes meaningless.'
On's work becoming meaningless. The thought makes me doubt everything.

i49ruq3osoo61mlojpvdqq_thumb_eb9f bx47rxugtyiomqaib7nzwa_thumb_eba0 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation. Photo reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

This half-way point is a good place to mention again the 120 cards that went to Konrad Fischer from April 1 to July 31, 1969. As here, they were all posted from New York. And again, when presented to the public, 50-odd years later, the 120 had to be split into two halves. Below is how the 'I GOT UP' cards from 1969, owned by the Dorothea and Konrad Fischer Collection in Germany, were shown in Japan in 2022.

(6x10) + (6x10):

unadjustednonraw_thumb_e218 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders of the installation shot, Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum, Sakura.

This was the very first set of postcards sent from New York, and you might expect the artist to have used different organising principles in choosing the sequence of postcards. This is true, there is much more coming and going, almost as if On Kawara was in a helicopter, buzzing over New York, whereas as we're seeing, in the 1972 set sent to Pontus Hultén, the choice of cards makes compelling geographic sense, one long sail and then walk through the city, so far, with only occasional helicopter use to gain aerial shots.

How often did the United Nations building crop up in the 1969 set? Six times consecutively in April, and three times consecutively in June. So it was an important motif first time around as well. Which makes sense given On Kawara's sub-titles going back to the beginning of his Date Painting in 1966.

How often did the Empire State Building crop up in 1969? As the main motif, the solitary spire, three times in a row, as in 1972.

One thing this exercise brings out is how On Kawara was as meticulous about space as he was about time. And the great thing is, dear reader, we are only half way through this superb artwork. This set of double-sided, multi-layered postcards sent to Stockholm in 1972 must be one of the major statements about NewYork by an outward-looking, inward-musing, New York artist.

Well, it works for me. And if it works for you, then hit the link to see where On Kawara goes next with his postcard fest.