ON KAWARA (1933-2014)
ON KAWARA (1933-2014)
ON KAWARA (1933-2014)
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ON KAWARA (1933-2014)
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Deconstructing Boundaries: Arte Povera and Minimalism in Dialogue
ON KAWARA (1933-2014)

OCT. 27, 1982 ("Wednesday.") from Today series, 1966–2013

ON KAWARA (1933-2014)
OCT. 27, 1982 ("Wednesday.") from Today series, 1966–2013
signed 'On Kawara' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas, with handmade cardboard box with newspaper
61 x 89 in. (154.9 x 226 cm.)
Painted in 1982.
Konrad Fischer Gallery, Düsseldorf
Private collection, Cologne
Private collection, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2001
East Hampton, Guild Hall Museum, Aspects of Minimalism: Selections from East End Collections, August-October 2016.


Isabella Lauria
Isabella Lauria Vice President, Senior Specialist, Head of 21st Century Evening Sale


Illustrated in the largest format of the artist's Today Series, and one of only 10 paintings that the artist ever executed at this scale, OCT. 27, 1982 ("Wednesday.") is a rare-to-market example of On Kawara's temporal genius. On, January 4, 1966, On Kawara completed the first of his groundbreaking Today Series. With that canvas, the artist began a nearly five-decade project that established him as one of the titans of global Conceptual art. OCT. 27, 1982 (“Wednesday.”) from Today, 1966-2013 is one of the largest examples of both the artist’s technical prowess and intellectual rigor. Paired with a copy of The New York Times late edition from the day in question, it becomes a temporal document that freezes a moment in our collective consciousness while also giving insight into a segment of Kawara’s personal history. By stripping his paintings of any gestural expression or anecdotal marks, Kawara established a deeply recognizable format that only grew in strength as he continued with his series. Pairing this painting with his oeuvre at large, one becomes keenly aware of the artist’s investment in understanding, problematizing, and meditating on the vast and unstoppable notion of advancing days, months, and years.

As is typical of this series, the present example is rendered on a rectangular canvas with a contrasting dark background and white text. At 61 x 89 inches, OCT. 27, 1982 is realized in the largest of a predetermined set of eight sizes that the artist utilized throughout his decades-long series. Though seemingly straightforward, each painting actually took hours to complete. A form of meditation for Kawara, the finished product was the result of the careful application of paint in a specific sequence. Starting with the background, four coats of smoky dark blue paint were applied with drying time between each layer. Any mottling or texture was equalized with coarse brushes and subsequent fine detailing. Onto this even, uniform surface, Kawara drew his calendar text and filled it in with several coats of white paint and the assistance of tapered brushes, an X-Acto knife, and measuring implements. Exceedingly impressive is the speed at which On Kawara accomplishes this pristine level of detail, painting works from this series in their entirety strictly within the span of a day, destroying any canvas that could not be completed otherwise. The result is a bold statement of existence that embodies and expresses the singular moment of that particular day.

In the 1960s, a group of loosely associated artists began making works that hinged upon the formation of a driving concept before anything physical could be created. Working from a set of instructions or predetermined procedures, these Conceptual artists pushed the bounds of what could be considered or talked about as art. Thus, series such as Kawara’s date paintings are infinitely more philosophical than their simple exteriors might suggest. Within the monochromatic canvas and block letters exists a personal rumination on the temporal and human existence.

Remarking on the artist’s posthumous retrospective at the Guggenheim in New York, Roberta Smith noted, “Like a true Conceptualist, Mr. Kawara stuck to the facts and also transcended them, endowing them with a resonant appeal and a sense of form as fine-tuned as any Minimalist sculptor’s. His art helped shape Conceptualism’s love of uninflected information. It fused the movement’s basic duality of image plus text into an instantly legible unit before it actually existed. It also bridged the gap between the modernist monochrome as devotional object and the Duchampian ready-made” (R. Smith, “A Life Captivated by the Wonder of Time: The Guggenheim Shows First On Kawara Retrospective,” The New York Times, February 5, 2015). On the forefront of the Conceptual era, Kawara’s work was a catalyst for idea-based practices that continue to be relevant today.

In an existential mode, Kawara’s practice focused increasingly on the present moment as the only knowable reality in a world full of uncertainty and change. Born in 1932, his youth was interrupted by the cataclysmic use of atomic bombs by Allied forces on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The events of 1945 had a significant effect on the young artist’s psyche. An awakening of consciousness, Kawara struggled to find meaning in both his personal experience and the world at large. In this search, he found solace in the progression of time and the universality of the calendar. As curator René Denizot noted, “Each piece is a finished product, a point in a calendar. But in the contemplation of the series of days devoted to the task of making these paintings, we glimpse a sign of life beyond the dated works themselves, on the horizon of an unlimited time: an act of rupture within the continuity of time” (René Denizot, On Kawara, London 2002, p. 114). OCT. 27, 1982 (“Wednesday.”) from Today, 1966-2013 and its brethren form a sizable contribution to our understanding of the power of conceptual art and have influenced countless artists in the subsequent generations.

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