On Kawara - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Sunday, May 8, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Micheline Szwajcer, Antwerp
    Private Collection, Toronto
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    London, Simon Lee Gallery, Paintings by, August 4 - August 26, 2009

  • Catalogue Essay

    On Kawara’s seminal Today series is as iconic in the pantheon of Conceptual art as Warhol’s Campbell's Soup Cans were to Pop or Jackson Pollock’s drips of paint were to Abstract Expressionism. Beginning on January 4, 1966, Today functions as a form of personal diary and travelogue for the artist as well as a reflection of the rapidly globalizing world.

    Each canvas is breathtakingly simple in its composition, the abbreviated date of the painting’s execution written in the language of the country in which it was conceived. Kawara’s method of production remained remarkably consistent: painting four layers of ground, sanding each one to maintain a uniformity of texture, Kawara then meticulously lined out his text with ruler and set square filling it dutifully with white paint; any painting he did not finish by the day’s end he destroyed. He completed the work by setting the canvas into a handmade cardboard box, often lined with a local newspaper clipping from that day. The box confirms the object-hood of the painting in its own right, whilst the newspaper anchors it to an existing daily reality. Instead of integrating newspaper into the work, Kawara deliberately kept it separate - a further distinction between the different realities of art and non-art.

    The present work documents the passing of four decades, with one painting each from 1970, 1980, 1990 and 2000. Each painting looks deceptively similar, unfolding in banal repetition with calendric regularity. However, upon closer inspection one notices the subtle differences that Kawara wove into each unit, as if to suggest the distinct nature of each day while still remaining detached and non-involved. For instance, each painting comprising the present lot possesses a slight color aberration – a nuance evident in the disparate pitch of saturated grays that form the backdrops of each composition. Incidentally, Kawara painted each of these works in New York. One of the most striking newspaper clippings included in the boxes dates from November 22, 1990: Michael Milken’s 10 year sentence for junk bond manipulation (the longest sentence for any financial scandal up to that point) as well as the article declaring “the end of the ‘era of confrontation and division [in Europe]’” embodied by the recent adoption of the Charter of Paris for a New Europe. Thus, for all their impartiality, the paintings are linked to the artist's being - the geographical location of his body, the vagaries of his hand and the subjectivity of his aesthetic decisions. As much as these paintings are visible, ordered structures of time in all its infinite variation, they are equally existential assertions of self.


Four Decades (OCT.13, 1970 / MAY 7, 1980 / NOV.22, 1990 / APR.16, 2000)

1970, 1980, 1990, 2000
Liquitex on canvas in handmade cardboard box with newspaper clippings, in 4 parts
(i) 10 1/8 x 12 7/8 in. (25.6 x 33 cm)
(ii) 10 1/4 x 13 1/4 in. (26.1 x 33.5 cm)
(iii) 10 1/4 x 13 1/4 in. (26 x 33.5 cm)
(iv) 10 1/4 x 13 5/8 in. (26 x 34.5 cm)

(i) Signed "On Kawara" in Japanese on the reverse.
(ii), (iii), (iv) Signed "On Kawara" on the reverse.

$1,500,000 - 2,500,000 

Sold for $1,565,000

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 8 May 2016