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(1932 – 2014), Japan

On Kawara Biography

Japanese-born artist On Kawara is best known through his association with the beginnings of American Conceptual art. Born in 1932, Kawara was 12 years old when the atomic bombs fell on Japan. In his youth, he travelled widely before setting roots in New York. He died in 2014.

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Kawara's best-known series is his 'Today' series (1966-2013). The paintings of his 'Today' series are more commonly known as his date paintings. The works of the series are horizontal acrylic paintings that record the date they were made in white on a monochromatic background. Nearly 3000 paintings were made over the life of the series, with the first dating back to 4 January 1966. Each painting was completed in one day. If it was not finished by the end of the day, it was destroyed.

In the 'Today' series there were eight options of size for each painting—between 8 x 10 inches and 61 x 89 inches—and three options of hand-mixed (and therefore liable to variation) colour: grey, red or blue. The structure and language of dating would change based on what city Kawara was in that day. Depending on which scale Kawara chose to work with, the painting could take between four and seven hours to finish. For Kawara it was a chance to focus on the act of painting. Subtle differences in each canvas reveal the unique state of mind and emotion with which each painting was produced. Due to the method in which the paintings had to be stored in Kawara's small studio, Kawara created an accompanying box for each work. These boxes included newspaper clippings from the day the painting was made. Simultaneously factual and diary-like, Kawara's date paintings act as both simple reports regarding the day the painting was made and deeply site- and time-specific expressions of mood.

A frequent traveller, Kawara would often send postcards to people he knew (the 'I Got Up' series). The number of postcards eventually added up to more than 1 500. On each postcard was a rubber stamping that indicated what time he had woken up that day. Kawara also sent more than 900 telegrams to acquaintances (the 'I Am Still Alive' series). The telegrams consistently and solely bore the words 'I am still alive.' Such statements are not only an affirmation of life (reassuring messages from someone who is travelling in a pre-cellphone age) and a peek into Kawara's mundane intricacies, they are also an insight—like the paintings—into the depth of meaning available in a single reportorial statement. The odd and unexpected intimacy of such statements should not be overlooked.

Between 1970 and 1971 Kawara typed a list of the previous million years of the world, starting from 1969 and going back to 998 031 BC. In 1998, he typed a list of the next million years, starting from 1999 and going all the way forward to 1 001 998 AD. In Kawara's retrospective, On Kawara—Silence, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (6 February-3 May 2015), volunteers (two at a time in one-hour shifts; one male and one female; one reading into the past and one into the future; alternating reading dates) recited each list. In these lists, the question of what it means to record time, or perhaps the absurdity of recorded time, is annunciated, and the fleeting nature of our current moment in the face of time's winds is labouriously articulated.

Casey Carsel | Ocula | 2017

On Kawara Artworks

Currently there are no artworks available from our member galleries, however Ocula Advisory may have a number works which they can potentially offer for private sale. Please contact Ocula Advisory for more information.


On Kawara Recent Exhibitions

Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, A Day's Work at Raum Schroth in the Museum Wilhelm Morgner, Soest, Margaret St, London
27 January–13 April 2019 Group Exhibition A Day's Work Raum Schroth in the Museum Wilhelm Morgner, SoestMargaret St
Contemporary art exhibition, On Kawara, On Kawara at Krakow Witkin Gallery, Boston
17 November–22 December 2018 On Kawara Krakow Witkin GalleryBoston

On Kawara Represented By

David Zwirner contemporary art gallery in 19th Street, New York, USA David Zwirner New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong

On Kawara In Ocula Magazine

Aichi Triennale 2022 Declares ‘STILL ALIVE’ Theme Ocula News Aichi Triennale 2022 Declares ‘STILL ALIVE’ Theme Nagoya, 8 April 2021

The triennale takes inspiration from conceptual artist On Kawara, who for decades sent telegrams reminding people he wasn't dead.

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König Galerie Opens New Location in Seoul’s Gangnam District Ocula News König Galerie Opens New Location in Seoul’s Gangnam District Seoul, 1 April 2021

The gallery's first exhibition includes works by Katharina Grosse, Norbert Bisky, Friedrich Kunath, and Alicja Kwade.

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On Kawara In Related Press

'Time, Light, Japan': Japanese art from the 1990s to now at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney Related Press 'Time, Light, Japan': Japanese art from the 1990s to now at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 4 April 2017, Art Radar Journal

From 17 December 2016 to 30 April 2017 the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney presents Time, light, Japan: Japanese art 1990s to now. The exhibition explores time and light through video, photography, sound and installation from the 1990s to now. Drawing from the gallery's collection, the exhibition brings together the works of eight...

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Questionnaire: Candida Höfer Related Press Questionnaire: Candida Höfer 17 January 2017, Frieze

What images keep you company in the space where you work? Susanne Bürner:  Tree Still (Sage), Tree Still (Coriander)  and  Tree Still (Chives) (all 2000).  What was the first piece of art that really mattered to you? It was a work by Man Ray that I saw in an exhibition a very, very long time ago:  The Lovers  (1936). If you could...

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Of Time, Places and People: 'Time of Others' at the Singapore Art Museum Related Press Of Time, Places and People: 'Time of Others' at the Singapore Art Museum

Singapore Art Museum’s (SAM) latest exhibition Time of Others, which opened on 21 November 2015, is a curatorial collaboration with three other distinguished museums exhibited in four locations in three countries: the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (MOT), National Museum of Art, Osaka (NMAO) and the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of...

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On Kawara at the Guggenheim Museum, New York Related Press On Kawara at the Guggenheim Museum, New York 6 February 2015, The New York TImes

The seemingly dry, narrow-gauge art of the Conceptual giant On Kawara is profound — profoundly simple, human and deep. And, as proved by that artist’s first full-dress retrospective, “On Kawara — Silence” at the Guggenheim Museum, its quality is most apparent when it is seen in quantity. Mr. Kawara, who was born...

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