The Power Plant

On Kawara: Consciousness. Meditation. Watcher on the hills.

On Kawara

Past Exhibition

Dec 08 2005 – Mar 04 2006

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On Kawara, NOV. 20, 1987, 1987, from "Today" series, 1966-2013 "Friday." Acrylic on canvas, 45.7 x 61 cm. Couresty of the artist and David Zwirner.

A retrospective exhibition of selected works by On Kawara, one of the world’s most respected and influential artists, Consciousness. Meditation. Watcher on the hills. marks a unique and rare opportunity to view the work of a contemporary master. Kawara is a central figure in the development of late-twentieth century art, and an artist whose unique focus over the past four decades has resulted in a singular dissertation on the nature of consciousness, time and human mortality.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is a group of more than forty paintings from the Today Series, an ongoing project Kawara began on January 4, 1966 and that is intended to culminate at the end of the artist’s life. Simply depicting the written date on which it was produced, each painting in the Today Series is made in one of eight modest sizes, ranging from 20 x 25 cm to 155 x 226 cm, using paint mixed fresh that day. Kawara builds a layered, monochromatic surface onto which he carefully hand-letters the date in white sans serif script. If the painting is not finished by midnight on the day it was begun, it is destroyed. Occasionally Kawara produces two paintings on one day, and rarely, three. Over the course of the last 20 years, the artist has steadfastly maintained little expressive differentiation in the construction of these works, and he has now produced more than 2000 paintings. For this exhibition, at least one Sunday from every year of the series was chosen for display.

As the exhibition’s curator, Jonathan Watkins, states of the Today Series:

In many ways [it] epitomizes an existentialist ‘fundamental project,’ the manifestation of a unifying impulse which defines a human life. For Jean-Paul Sartre, the most notable exponent of Existentialism, it is inextricable from a particular state of consciousness (and self-consciousness) engendered by an acknowledged personal freedom. Like Sartre, Kawara opposes ‘objective’ reality with a notion of consciousness – it is both the subject of his work and the work in itself.

This exploration is reflected in a selection of telegrams that Kawara has also continued to send to friends and colleagues since 1970, bearing the message “I am still alive.” Of these, Watson observes:

Their eloquence derives from what they don’t say, what would be impossible to say – as saying anything would be impossible – were their message untrue. As with Descartes, the ‘I am’ is indubitable at the time of writing, and ‘still alive’ constitutes an acknowledgement of the dimension of time already embodied in a telegram. Its humour hinges on the fact that the recipient would be unaware of any recent life-threatening circumstances befalling the artist. It is like the answer to a question that hasn’t been asked. It is perfectly deadpan. The profound and counterbalancing seriousness of the telegram proceeds from the truism that we are all ‘still alive’ (readers and writers of telegrams alike) but unexpectedly might not be.

Central to Kawara’s exploration of consciousness is a deep reflection on the nature of time, and the exhibition includes his two monumental bookworks, One Million Years (Past) (1970–71) and One Million Years (Future) (1980–96). Each of these companion works comprises ten large volumes, within which, typewritten by Kawara, are transcribed one million successive years, beginning with 1969 and proceeding backward, and then from 1980 forward. They are respectively dedicated to “all those who have lived and died” and to “the last one.”

A fully illustrated book, Consciousness. Meditation. Watcher on the hills., accompanies the exhibition. It includes texts by Ikuro Adachi, Kajin Yamamoto, Osho, Khalil Gibran, Krishnamurti, Roger Penrose, and Stuart Hameroff.

133 telegrams. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York.

Liquitex on canvas, 34.3 x 25.5 x 4 cm. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York.

Photo: Rafael Goldchain.

Photo: Rafael Goldchain.

133 telegrams. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York.

10 volumes of books. 22 x 28 x 7 cm each. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York.