Date Paintings:1966-1988

Joe Scanlan, 1989

In 1966 On Kawara began executing his crisp, minimal paintings of dates as a highly personal documentation of his daily existence. Each painting was (and continues to be) inspired by the artist’s experiences on a particular day; the paintings’ respective sizes, colors, and languages are determined and the painting completed within each twenty-four period. Consequently, seemingly insignificant dates such as “May 9, 1975” are validated through the artist’s immediate experience, reified through the “immortal” permanence of painting, and distilled through subsequent viewer interaction.

Kawara’s dates are the subject matter and content of his paintings, as well as their chronological record. Letters, numbers, language, and our systems of marking the passing of time are innocuously presented but evocatively understood as man-made cultural constructs which Kawara both perpetuates and questions. Through his persistent actions Kawara brings both a contemporary significance and a timeless aura to his paintings and their dates, in addition casting a somber and mortal light on his viewers and himself.

Twenty-four other artworks, each having been executed in one of the last twenty-four years—by such artist as Vito Acconci, Richard Artschwager, Robert Barry, Vija Celmins, Julia Fish, Leon Golub, Jenny Holzer, Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth, Robert Mangold, Robert Mapplethorp, Alan McCollum, Matt Mullican, Jim Nutt, Ed Paschke, Richard Prince, Christina Ramberg, Nancy Spero, Tony Tasset, Lawrence Weiner, H.C.Westerman, Terry Winters, Christopher Wool, and Ray Yoshida—will be exhibited alongside each of Kawara’s annual counterparts. This curatorial comparison will thus juxtapose a provocative range of the creative possibilities within art—since its “death” in 1965—with Kawara’s understated but no less creative conceptual project.

Similar comparisons will be orchestrated by the directors of Portikus, Frankfurt, West Germany, and The Contemporary Art Center, Nagoya, Japan. In subtle and obvious ways all three exhibitions will be indicative of their locations as well as the art-making traditions of each region. Kawara’s paintings will neither diminish nor be diminished by such purposeful and varied contemporary art and artists; rather, the permeating power and enigmatic presence of his paintings will serve to isolate them from their companions, at the same time involving them in an engaging visual dialogue with their peers.

This text was originally published in the Society’s Spring newsletter.