The art of On Kawara

On_kawara_otu_imgBarry Schwabsky at The Nation:

Kawara’s art is not always quite so -rarefied. His most familiar work is his “Today” series, better known as “date paintings,” which he began producing in 1966 and continued making throughout his life: they are signlike works in acrylic on canvas showing the date on which the painting was made, inscribed in white sans serif letters and numerals, usually on a dark gray background (although there are some red and blue date paintings too). Because Kawara doesn’t space the numbers and letters of the date in the smooth way a typographer would, there is quirky rhythm to the inscriptions. The nearly 3,000 paintings are of various sizes, but most are quite modest in scale, often as small as eight by ten inches. It is thanks to these date paintings that “Kawara is a brand,” one of the many self-declared experts on the booming art market proclaimed a few years ago, “and his branding stands as a beacon for every contemporary dealer and every aspiring conceptual artist.”

Each painting is housed in (or, in the case of the larger paintings, merely accompanied by) a cardboard box that also contains a clipping from that day’s newspaper. At the Guggenheim, the boxes and clippings are mostly displayed in vitrines beneath the corresponding paintings. The selections are unpredictable. Beneath a painting from New Year’s Day, 1970, is the front page of The New York Times, with items on, for instance, the inauguration of John Lindsay for his second term as mayor and a dispute between the city and the transit workers’ union, which had turned down the offer of a 12 percent wage increase (how times have changed).

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