On Kawara

  • en

Feb 20123 Feb 201211

David Zwirner Gallery
525 and 533 West 19th Street
New York, New York, 10011
United States

Right now in Manhattan you can see a large group of astonishingly simple paintings, installed in multiple branches of a gallery, that demonstrate a single artist’s global reach. I’m speaking, of course, of On Kawara’s date paintings at David Zwirner.

All joking aside, the coincidence of Mr. Kawara’s exhibition with Damien Hirst’s international Spot Painting extravaganza is illuminating. Both are triumphs of personal branding, systematization and efficiency, but with widely divergent levels of cynicism. Speaking broadly, you could say that one is about time and the other is about money. (Though, as the adage goes, the two aren’t all that different.)

Zwirner’s “On Kawara: Date Painting(s) in New York and 136 Other Cities,” at two adjacent spaces in Chelsea, collects about 150 paintings made between 1966 and this month. In his continuing “Today” series Mr. Kawara equates painting with marking time. Each canvas consists of the day, month and year of its making, recorded in white sans-serif text on a solid, usually black background. Each painting must be completed within a day, or else be destroyed. Some paintings are stored alongside clippings from the day’s news; all are logged on a 100-year calendar.

Visually the series isn’t as dry as it sounds. Mr. Kawara admits the occasional bright red or blue into his parade of monochromatic backgrounds, so that certain dates appear more significant (for reasons that remain mysterious). He works on canvases of different sizes. And when he travels, as he often does, he adjusts his language and syntax to reflect the host country’s conventions (i.e., “26. ÁG. 1995,” from Reykjavik, Iceland, or “13 JUIN 2006,” from Monte Carlo). In countries that do not use the Roman alphabet he substitutes Esperanto.

The Zwirner installation (supervised by Mr. Kawara) separates New York paintings from those made in other cities. That’s too bad, because the international paintings start to look like passport stamps.

But it’s hard to come away from this show without confronting the existentialism — and fear — behind these one-day-at-a-time paintings. They remain powerfully connected to Mr. Kawara’s other well-known body of work, a series of telegrams sent to his dealer that bore the message “I am still alive.” One never worries, with Mr. Kawara, that the art will expire before he does.



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APA_Institute . Last modified Feb 03, 2012 2:58 p.m.

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