1933 (Aichi Prefecture, Japan)
2014 (New York City)
New York / Japan
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installation sculpture, abstraction, conceptual art
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|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Following is The New York Times obituary of the artist.|
On Kawara, Conceptual Artist Who Found Elegance in Every Day, Dies at 81
By ROBERTA SMITH
JULY 15, 2014
On Kawara, a Conceptual artist who devoted his career to recording the passage of time as factually and self-effacingly as art would allow, died in late June in New York City, where he had worked for 50 years. He was 81.
The David Zwirner Gallery, his representative, announced the death on its website. Mr. Kawara’s family declined to provide the date of death or the names of survivors, in keeping with his lifelong penchant for privacy.
Working in painting, drawing and performance, Mr. Kawara kept himself in the background and almost never gave interviews. The rare published photographs of him showed him from the back. Toward the end of his life, he stopped attending his own openings.
He belonged to a broadly international generation of Conceptual artists that began to emerge in the mid-1960s, stripping art of personal emotion, reducing it to nearly pure information or idea and greatly playing down the art object. Along with Lawrence Weiner, Joseph Kosuth, Hanne Darboven and others, Mr. Kawara gave special prominence to language.
He was best known for his “Today,” or date painting, series: monochromatic canvases, often small, whose only images are the dates on which they were made, rendered in meticulous white letters that look almost printed against fields of red, blue, black or gray. The series began in New York on Jan. 4, 1966 — before the term Conceptual Art existed — when Mr. Kawara painted that date on an 8-by-10-inch blue surface. It continued throughout his life.
The “Today” series, part of the Duchampian tradition of making art directly from dumb reality, treated each date as a ready-made. The works seemed straightforward — even obvious — and maddeningly repetitive, suggesting the Zen passivity of John Cage’s acceptance of noise as music. But they were also diaristic and meditative and could resonate with existential, psychological and scientific implications about the time-space continuum.
The date painting canvases were on thick stretchers that gave them a tombstone-like solidity. They usually memorialized days that had passed routinely for most people, and it was always a little jarring to see them plucked from oblivion. You realized that any date was special for someone, somewhere; you experienced space as full of time, and in the painting’s silence, you sensed the noisy tumult of history.
The date paintings were always site-specific, using the language and grammar of the country in which Mr. Kawara painted them (more than 130 locales). He used eight different sizes, up to around five by seven feet, but otherwise the method of production rarely varied.
The dates were painted in liquitex on four layers of acrylic paint rubbed smooth. Any painting not finished by midnight was destroyed. If finished, it would eventually be placed in a custom-made cardboard box that was often lined with parts of that day’s local newspaper. Sometimes exhibited with their paintings, the clippings measured time’s more specific tumult.
Sometimes the dates were significant, like the three large gray ones made in July 1969, during the Apollo 11 space mission, the first to land on the moon.
On Kawara was born in Japan in December 1932 and raised in an intellectual atmosphere infused with Shinto, Buddhist and Christian teachings. He was a promising student, he said, until the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 left him traumatized and full of doubt about “everything.”
After finishing high school in 1951, he moved to Tokyo and embarked on a course of self-education, reading omnivorously in European philosophy and in political and psychoanalytic theory. He also began making and exhibiting art and, with remarkable quickness, became a rising art star in Tokyo, an experience he disliked. He was known for figurative work of a decidedly dour postwar cast that culminated in a series of drawings of truncated bodies and body parts floating in tilted, tile-lined bathrooms.
In 1959 Mr. Kawara traveled to Mexico City, where his father was the director of an engineering company. He stayed three years, painting, attending art school and exploring the country — the beginning a life of incessant traveling. In 1962 he went to New York, where he spent eight months absorbing new art, especially Pop, and then went on to Paris, later visiting Spain.
He returned to New York in 1964, by which time his work was abstract and included drawings involving grids and random words. Dubious of art’s ability to communicate, he made paintings that reduced specific phrases to indecipherable geometric shapes of color interrupted by intermittent spacing and punctuation. He destroyed these works, but they convinced him that he could not do without legible words, ones that were both literal and resonant. A 1965 triptych titled Titled, with the words “1965,” “One thing” and “Viet-Nam” painted in white on red, inspired the date paintings.
More lighthearted, personal works recorded time as a process of moving through space, and life. Between the late 1960s and 1979, Mr. Kawara sent telegrams as regularly as possible to a rotating selection of friends and colleagues that announced, “I am still alive.”
During the same period, his “I Got Up” series consisted of mailed postcards rubber-stamped with the time he had risen and the address where he was staying on a given day. For I Met, he typed lists of all the people he encountered in the course of a day. In the mid-1990s he typed lists of one million years — one reaching back in time, the other forward — that were read aloud in performances in New York, Paris, London and elsewhere. This work was published in a limited-edition two-volume set that ran to 2,012 tissue-thin pages per book.
Mr. Kawara had his first solo show of time-related works at the Galerie Yves Lambert in Paris in 1971 and his first New York show at the Sperone Westwater Fischer Gallery (now Sperone Westwater) in SoHo in 1976. A large retrospective titled “On Kawara: Silence” will open at the Guggenheim in 2015.
Keeping the viewer focused on time’s incremental, day-by-day omnipresence was one reason for Mr. Kawara’s deliberately low profile and his habit of listing his age in exhibition catalogs in terms of the number of days he had been alive as of the show’s opening date. In the catalog to a show at the David Zwirner Gallery, an otherwise blank page titled “Biography of On Kawara” put the count at 26,192 days on Sept. 9, 2004. Last week the gallery calculated he had reached 29,771.
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|On Kawara, born in 1933 in the Aichi Prefecture of Japan, is a
conceptual artist who sends postcards to friends with "I am still
alive" written on them. This is only one of his art forms.
Earlier in his career he exhibited telegrams. |
mid-1960s, Kawara has painted two thousand "date paintings," each
comprised of its date of completion stenciled in white on black. There is nothing else on the painting. He paints four or five
layers of dark paint on a rectangular
canvas and then puts several layers of white paint on with the date.
On Kawara is self-taught and began creating
environmental sculpture in 1953. After six years travel in the United
States, Mexico and Europe, he settled in New York City.
1998, the artist's retrospective, "On Kawara - Whole and Parts 1964 -
1995," was shown at the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art, in
Japan. He exhibited, in 2002, at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham,
Kawara's work may be found in the collections of the
Dia Foundation (Dia: Beacon, Beacon, New York; Dia: Chelsea, New York
City); Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, Germany; Museum of Contemporary Art,
Los Angeles, California.
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