On Kawara


On Kawara Biography

1933 - 2014

On Kawara was a Conceptual artist who devoted his career to recording the passage of his own life, working with painting, drawing, performance, or bound volumes.  This self-referential focus contrasts incongruously with his personal aversion to publicity:  he almost never gave interviews and the rare photographs of him showed him from the back.  Eventually he stopped attending his own gallery openings.

He belonged to a broadly international generation of Conceptual artists who began to emerge in the mid-1960s and reduced art to a pure idea, greatly disregarding the significance of the physical art object.  Along with Lawrence Weiner, Joseph Kosuth, Hanne Darboven, and others, Kawara gave special prominence to language.  He was best known for his “Today” paintings:  a series of monochromatic canvases whose only image was a painted date, which was always the date on which they were made and always in the language and grammar of the location in which they were painted.  If the painting was not finished before midnight, it was destroyed.

Kawara was born in Japan and lived in Mexico City before moving to New York in the early 1960s (he traveled constantly, creating work in over 130 locales, so his actual place of residence is difficult to discern).  Between the late 1960s and 1979, he sent telegrams to a rotating selection of friends that announced “I am still alive.”  In the same period he created three sets of work, I Got Up, I Went, and I Met which, for each day from 1968 through 1979, inclusive, he recorded, respectively, where he got up (documented with a post card), where he went (marked on a map of the relevant city), and whom he met (a list of names).

Mr. Kawara had his first solo show at the Galerie Yvon Lambert in Paris in 1971 and his first New York show at Sperone Westwater Fischer Gallery in 1976.  In 2015 the Guggenheim Museum had a comprehensive retrospective of his work.