From February 6 the Guggenheim Museum in New York will be celebrating famous conceptual art maestro On Kawara. Born in 1932, he passed away in 2014 after a life spent between Japan and the US. We could compare him to another great artist, the Italian Alighiero Boetti, as Kawara in his career developed an artistic vision that included mail art, ‘date paintings’, book-shaped objects, maps, name lists and newspaper clippings.
I think ‘date paintings’ are possibly his most memorable work, they are basically a date painted against a solid-colour background. The date refers to the day on which the artist created the artwork, therefore once started, the painting had to be completed before midnight. Or what? Or Kawara would destroy it before the clock had struck 12. Book-shaped objects are another example of Kawara’s remarkable art, the work of a man obsessed with dates and the passing of time: two in particular caught my attention, One Million Years Past and One Million Years Future. What’s in them? Years. Simply years.
Years neatly written one by one with a typewriter: the first volume contains the years between 998,031 AC and 1969 while the second those between 1996 and 1.001.995 for a total of a million year: a fascinating philosophical and aesthetic research with no comparison in the world. Kawara is fairly unknown in Italy, the New York exhibition could be the perfect chance to discover more about him.