A painting by On Kawara, titled MAY 11, 1967, dated 1967.
On Kawara

For over five decades, On Kawara (29,771 days) created paintings, drawings, books, and recordings that examined chronological time and its function as a measure of human existence. The artist began making his now signature “date paintings” on January 4, 1966 in New York City and continued to make them in different parts of the world until 2013. 

Since 1999, Kawara's work has been represented by David Zwirner. Solo exhibitions at the gallery include I READ 1966-1995 (1999); Reading One Million Years (Past and Future) (2001); Paintings of 40 Years (2004); and One Million Years (2009). In 2012, On Kawara: Date Painting(s) in New York and 136 Other Cities marked his fifth solo exhibition at the gallery in New York, which presented over 150 date paintings selected by the artist. The show was accompanied by an eponymous, fully illustrated catalogue published by Ludion. 

The artist started exhibiting in Tokyo in the early 1950s and his works have been included in numerous conceptual art surveys from the seminal Information show at The Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1970 to 1965-1975: Reconsidering the Object of Art at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 1995. Important early solo shows include On Kawara, 1973 - Produktion eines Jahres/One Year's Production at the Kunsthalle Bern and the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels in 1974; On Kawara: continuity/discontinuity 1963-1979, which was first on view at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 1980 and traveled to the Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands, and the National Museum of Art, Osaka; On Kawara: Date paintings in 89 Cities, which toured from 1991 to 1993 to the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam to Deichtorhallen Hamburg, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; On Kawara: Whole and Parts 1964-1995, on view from 1996 to 1998 at the Nouveau Musée/Institut d'art contemporain, Villeurbanne, France, Castello di Rivoli, Turin, Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Musée d'Art Moderne, Villeneuve d'Ascq, France, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; and On Kawara: Horizontality/Verticality at the Städtischen Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau München, Munich and Museum Ludwig, Cologne in 2000 to 2001.

His epic project, One Million Years, is a monumental series of twenty-four works comprising One Million Years [Past], which was dedicated to "all those who have lived and died," and One Million Years [Future], addressed to “the last one.” The Past volumes, noting each year over an entire millennium from 998,031 BC, were started in 1970 and took two years to complete, while the Future years, begun in 1980, were written over the span of eighteen years and finish at 1,001,997 AD. Together the volumes make up 2,000,000 years. The first audio presentation of One Million Years, where male and female volunteers alternate to speak out the dates, took place at Dia Center for the Arts, New York in 1993, and other venues have included Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (2000); David Zwirner, New York (2001 and 2009); Documenta 11, Kassel (2002); Trafalgar Square, London (a continuous outdoor reading organized by the South London Gallery lasting seven days and seven nights, 2004); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2010); BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, England (2012); Jardin des Tuileries, Paris (organized in conjunction with FIAC by Galerie Martine Aboucaya and Galerie Yvon Lambert, 2012); Dia:Beacon, New York (2013); and BOZAR - Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels (2013). In 2017, a reading took place in the Oratorio di San Ludovico Dorsoduro, Venice as part of the 57th Venice Biennale (organized by Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, England) and in 2018-2019, another reading was held at the Museum MACAN in Jakarta, Indonesia. Readings from the books, which directly follow on where the previous venue left off, will continue to take place. A recording is made on each occasion and is available on a CD.

Since 1998, the artist has exhibited seven date paintings at kindergartens around the world under the title Pure Consciousness. Amongst other locations, the paintings have been presented in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire; Leticia, Colombia; Toliara, Madagascar; Thimphu, Bhutan; London; Bequia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Yusuhara, Japan; Bethlehem; Tongyong, South Korea; and Brooklyn, New York, with future venues in Münster, Germany and new locations to be determined.

Starting at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, England in 2002, On Kawara: Consciousness. Meditation. Watcher on the Hills traveled clockwise around the world to a dozen venues including Le Consortium, Dijon, France, Kunstverein Braunschweig, Germany, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Singapore, and The Power Plant, Toronto, before ending at the Museo de Arte in Lima in 2006. In 2015, a critically acclaimed, career-spanning retrospective of the artist's work, On Kawara—Silence, was organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Curated by Jeffrey Weiss, it marked the first full representation of Kawara's practice beginning in 1964. Also on view in 2015 was a solo show specially focused on Kawara's production in 1966—a pivotal year in his practice—at the Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens in Deurle, Belgium. A long-term installation of the artist's date paintings is on view at Dia:Beacon, New York.

Work by the artist is represented in museum collections internationally, including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; Kunstmuseum Basel; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; Philadelphia Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Tate, London; Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, Toyota City, Japan; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. 

Click here to download full CV

February 6 – May 3

On Kawara—Silence was an unprecedented survey of the artist's work at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The exhibition was curated by the Guggenheim's Senior Curator Jeffrey Weiss with Anne Wheeler.

Silence featured every type of work Kawara made over five decades, including painting, drawings, books, and recordings that examine chronological time as a measure of human existence. The artist is best known for the Today series, a body of work begun on January 4, 1966 in which he painted the numerical date of each day on that day, a practice he continued until his death. 150 of these "date" paintings were presented at the Guggenheim, starting with the very first work in the series. Also included in the exhibition were postcards from the I Got Up series, which Kawara would send to different individuals to declare the time at which he had arisen that day, telegrams from the I Am Still Alive series, maps that compose the I Went series, and lists of the names of people the artist met on a given day from the I Met series. In conjunction with the exhibition, the Guggenheim organized readings from One Million Years (Past and Future), Kawara's epic work consisting of 24 volumes listing dates one million years into the future and one million years into the past.

Silence was described in The New York Times as "an enthralling experience" and as "a moving and generous exhibition" in The Guardian. Kawara's date paintings reminded The Nation's critic "of Donald Judd’s praise, in his essay "Specific Objects," … of an art that would embody an order that 'is not rationalistic and underlying but is simply order, like that of continuity ...'"

On Kawara—Silence was accompanied by a Guggenheim Museum publication edited by Jeffrey Weiss and Anne Wheeler. The volume is published with four differently colored covers reflecting those Kawara used in his date paintings.

Installation view, On Kawara: One Million Years (Reading), at Museum MACAN in Jakarta, dated 2018.
Installation view, On Kawara: One Million Years (Reading), at Museum MACAN in Jakarta, dated 2018.

November 17, 2018–March 10, 2019

A reading of On Kawara’s epic One Million Years took place at Museum MACAN in Jakarta. On Kawara: One Million Years (Reading) was last performed during the first three months of the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017. Documenting the passage of chronological time, One Million Years is a monumental twenty-volume collection comprising One Million Years [Past], noting each year over an entire millenium from 998,031 BC, and One Million Years [Future], noting each year over an entire millenium through 1001997 AD. Together, these volumes make up 2,000,000 years. The first live recording of readings from One Million Years was made at David Zwirner in 2009.

"Mr. Kawara . . . assiduously avoided the art world spotlight, dedicating his creative life to measuring the passage of time," Roberta Smith wrote in a New York Times review of the artist’s retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2015. "His tallying took the form of paintings of numerical dates made on the one they depicted; telegrams announcing that he was still alive; postcards recording the time he arose that morning (the I Got Up series), as well as sundry maps, calendars and lists—starting with ones detailing the people he encountered in a given day and culminating in three-ring notebooks enumerating hundreds of thousands of years, past and future."

Images: Installation view, On Kawara: One Million Years (Reading), Museum MACAN, Jakarta, 2018

On Kawara's Reading One Million Years (Past and Future) was presented during the first three months of the 57th Venice Biennale in the Oratorio di San Ludovico, a 16th century church dedicated to the spoken word.

This monumental 20 volume calendar lists dates one million years into the future and one million years into the past. Begun in 1969 and completed in 1999, the texts are dedicated respectively to "all who have lived and died" and to "the last one." The artist converted One Million Years from typewritten form into live readings and recordings in 1993. The reading is done by one male and one female reader who alternate between the odd and even numbers.

This epic work was presented at David Zwirner in New York in 2009, and more recently at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2015 as part of On Kawara—Silence, a critically acclaimed overview of the artist's work. The New York Times described the exhibition as "an enthralling experience."

Read more about the Venice presentation in The Art Newspaper. Reading One Million Years (Past and Future) was included in The Independent's 10 Best Fringe Events in the 57th Venice Biennale.

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