On Kawara (1932-2014)

Over the course of his prolific career, Japanese conceptual artist On Kawara created paintings, drawings, books, and recordings that examined chronological time and its function as a measure of human existence.


Although he was notoriously private about his biography and personal life, it is known that Kawara was born in the small city of Kariya, Japan in 1932, and started exhibiting in Tokyo in the early 1950s. In 1959, he traveled to Mexico to join his father, and three years later began traveling between New York City and Paris, finally settling in New York in 1965, where he remained until his death.


Like his contemporaries, Joseph Kosuth, Lawrence Weiner, and Sol LeWitt, Kawara stripped art down to its constituent parts, leaving only the information or idea that the art work was based upon or conveyed.

He began making his now signature and iconic Date Paintings (known as the Today series) on January 4, 1966 in New York City. Executed over the course of almost five decades, these works consist solely of the date upon which they were made, painted by hand in simple serif-style white lettering upon a monochrome background. The date is always written according to the customs of the country in which the work was executed, and Kawara destroyed the work if he could not finish it within the same day. For each Date Painting, Kawara made a cardboard box lined with a part of that day’s edition of a local newspaper. Other acclaimed series include the monumental project, One Million Years, comprising twenty-four works dedicated to ‘all those who have lived and died’; the Past volumes and the Future years.


In 2015, a critically acclaimed, career-spanning retrospective of the artist’s work, On KawaraSilence, was organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. A long-term installation of the artist’s Date paintings is on view at Dia:Beacon, New York. Kawara’s work can be found in museums across the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Tate Gallery, London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, and the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, Toyota City.


On Kawara died in New York City on July 10, 2014.