First Comprehensive Exhibition of the Work of Artist On Kawara Opens at the Guggenheim Museum on February 6
On Kawara — Silence
February 6–May 3, 2015
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum,
1071 Fifth Avenue, New York
Full rotunda and High Gallery
(NEW YORK, NY, December 22, 2014)—From February 6 to May 3, 2015, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum will present the first comprehensive exhibition of the work of On Kawara (1933–2014), the broadest representation to date of his practice since 1963. On Kawara—Silence invites the viewer to consider a body of work that engages the nature and experience of time and place.
On Kawara—Silence is organized by Jeffrey Weiss, Senior Curator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, with Anne Wheeler, Assistant Curator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, in close cooperation with the artist.
The Leadership Committee for On Kawara—Silence is gratefully acknowledged for its support, with special thanks to David Zwirner, New York/London; Glenstone; Leonard and Louise Riggio; and Konrad Fischer Galerie, Düsseldorf and Berlin.
This exhibition is also supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Installed along the spiral ramps of the museum according to a framework of 12 sections, or “chapters,” devised by the artist, the exhibition features work from 1963 through 2013 and includes every category of On Kawara’s output, much of it produced during his travels across the globe: monochrome Date Paintings (from the Today series); telegrams (the I Am Still Alive series); stamped tourist postcards (the I Got Up series); city maps marked with the route taken by the artist on a given day (the I Went series); lists of names of people encountered that day (the I Met series); newspaper cuttings (the I Read series); a complete inventory of paintings (the Journals); and vast calendars (One Hundred Yearsand One Million Years). Numerous drawings produced in Paris and New York in 1964, which are fascinating proposals for unrealized works, and Kawara’s only two extant paintings of 1965, Location and Title, which herald the Today series, offer a historical perspective and indicate the emergence of the pictorial idiom he continued to pursue throughout his career. The exhibition also presents three months of consecutive Today paintings, identified by the artist collectively asEveryday Meditation, part of which was displayed in the 1971 Guggenheim International Exhibition. As part of the One Million Years project, a continuous live recitation of dates from an immense ledger will occur three days a week during the run of the exhibition on the ground floor of the Guggenheim rotunda.
Born in Kariya, Japan, Kawara achieved early recognition during the 1950s as a young member of the Tokyo avant-garde. The artist left Japan in 1959, moving first to Mexico City and then to Paris before settling in New York City. During that period of relocation, he abandoned his early surrealistic representations of the body. In 1966 his practice acquired the form it would take thereafter—the intermittent yet persistent production of paintings and other works, most of which serve to identify the time and place of the artist’s whereabouts on the day they were made.
Kawara’s work is often associated with the rise of Postminimal and Conceptual art. Yet in its complex wit and existential reach, it also stands well apart. At the heart of On Kawara—Silence are paintings from the Today series, created over the course of seven decades according to intensive protocols. With each painting, the date is inscribed in white acrylic against a monochromatic ground in variants of blue, red, or very dark gray, in the language of the place where the painting was made. The strict range of dimensions for the Date Paintings is preordained, and the process of making them is seemingly mechanical, although the paintings were, in fact, meticulously produced by hand. A painting was either finished in the course of a given day or destroyed. On some days, two, and, very occasionally, three, were made. The exhibition presents over 150 Date Paintings, many accompanied by the handmade storage boxes that Kawara often lined with cuttings from the daily press. Such cuttings, representing topics both historical and banal—politics, natural disaster, celebrity, space exploration, sports—place Kawara’s work in a context of current events, although any logic of selection is difficult to discern.
“I Got Up.” “I Went.” “I Read.” “I Met.” Much of Kawara’s work deploys such first-person declarations, which seem to designate little more—yet nothing less—than his very being in the world. More than 1,500 tourist postcards, addressed, stamped, and mailed to friends and acquaintances including artists, gallerists, collectors, critics, and curators such as John Baldessari, Germano Celant, Herman Daled, Kasper König, Sol LeWitt, Lucy Lippard, Toshiaki Minemura, and Adrian Piper bearing the message “I GOT UP AT,” followed by the precise time Kawara began his day, are featured in On Kawara—Silence. The exhibition also includes city maps upon which the artist traced his route in a single day, and more than 100 telegrams delivered between 1969–2000, each bearing the simple message “I AM STILL ALIVE.” These series, produced according to their own set of rules, record the basic activities of the artist’s life. Like the Date Paintings, they appear to be purely systematic. While close examination reveals the work’s unexpectedly personal qualities—not least the discipline and endurance implied by the artist’s relentless record keeping—indications of personal experience are elusive. Throughout his lifetime, the artist’s official biography consisted only of the number of days he had been alive. The schematic nature of his oeuvre means that, despite its subjective nature and focus on self-examination, it remained surprisingly abstract.
Kawara said very little about his art and preferred to leave much about it unexplained. He did, however, identify one central theme: human consciousness, an individual’s heightened awareness of his or her existence in the world. Kawara also said that a Date Painting represents a paradox—that each painting forever signifies the present by bearing the name and date of the day it was made, yet once the day is over, that present belongs only to the past.
Exhibition curator Jeffrey Weiss observes that Kawara’s work represents an expansive practice, a field of operations and activities that occur over time according to remarkably consistent terms: “The artist believed the best way for us to engage his work was by direct encounter, through which we can discover its relevance to our own lives.”
Live Reading: One Million Years
The monumental work One Million Years consists of two groups of bound volumes, One Million Years: Past and One Million Years: Future, with pages listing annual dates stretching one million years backwards in time and one million years forward. Since its first reading, in 1993 at the Dia Center for the Arts in New York, live readings of One Million Years have occurred around the world, each recitation picking up where the last left off. As part of On Kawara—Silence, volunteer readers, one male and one female, will sit at a table in the Guggenheim’s rotunda and alternate reading dates for one hour before a new pair takes over. Readings will occur every Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday from February 6 through May 3 from 11 am–5 pm. The public is invited to participate and must register in advance at [email protected]. For more information, visit guggenheim.org/onemillionyears.
On Kawara—Silence will be accompanied by an exhibition catalogue with essays contributed by Jeffrey Weiss and Anne Wheeler as well as artist Daniel Buren; Whitney Davis, George C. and Helen N. Pardee Professor of History and Theory of Ancient and Modern Art, University of California at Berkeley, and Visiting Professor of History of Art, University of York; Maria Gough, Joseph Pulitzer Jr. Professor of Modern Art, Harvard University; Ben Highmore, Professor of Cultural Studies, University of Sussex; novelist and critic Tom McCarthy; and Susan Stewart, Avalon Foundation University Professor of the Humanities and Director of the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts, Princeton University. Featuring more than four hundred images and available in four different colors of cover that correspond with the monochromes of artist’s Date Paintings, the book will offer authoritative descriptions of each category of the artist’s work and will be available for $65 in a hardcover edition beginning in February at guggenheimstore.org.
Education and Public Programs
DUOLOGUES: ON KAWARA
Tuesdays, 6:30 pm
Conceived by exhibition curator Jeffrey Weiss, this series of paired talks positions On Kawara within an interdisciplinary world context. Themes inspired by each speaker’s engagement with Kawara’s work include everyday life, globalism, politics, language, travel, and pictorial abstraction.
February 24: Author Tom McCarthy and philosopher Simon Critchley
March 24: Painter and critic David Batchelor and historian Briony Fer
March 31: Visual artist Emily Jacir and scholar Nikos Papastergiadis
April 28: Visual artist Alfredo Jaar and art historian Tom McDonough
$12, $8 Members, free for students with advance RSVP.
EYE TO EYE: DAVID REED
Tuesday, April 14, 6:30 pm
Abstract artist and educator David Reed leads an intimate tour of On Kawara—Silence, sharing his perspective on a lifetime of looking at contemporary painting.
$15, $10 Members, $5 Students
About the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation
Founded in 1937, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation is dedicated to promoting the understanding and appreciation of art, primarily of the modern and contemporary periods, through exhibitions, education programs, research initiatives, and publications. The Guggenheim network that began in the 1970s when the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, was joined by the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, has since expanded to include the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (opened 1997) and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (currently in development). The Guggenheim Foundation continues to forge international collaborations that celebrate contemporary art, architecture, and design within and beyond the walls of the museum, including The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Chinese Art Initiative and the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative. More information about the Guggenheim Foundation can be found atguggenheim.org.
Adults $22, students/seniors (65+) $18, members and children under 12 free. The Guggenheim’s free app, available with admission or by download to personal devices, offers an enhanced visitor experience. The app features content on special exhibitions including On Kawara—Silence, as well as access to more than 2,400 works in the Guggenheim’s permanent collection and information about the museum’s landmark building. Verbal Description guides for select exhibitions are also included for visitors who are blind or have low vision. The Guggenheim app is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Museum Hours: Sunday–Wednesday, 10 am–5:45 pm; Friday, 10 am–5:45 pm; Saturday, 10 am–7:45 pm; closed Thursday. On Saturdays, beginning at 5:45 pm, the museum hosts “Pay What You Wish.” For general information, call 212 423 3500 or visit the museum online at: guggenheim.org