Imagine yourself waking every day and sitting down at your typewriter to address 2 postcards (per day) from wherever you are. Then you set to work on a painting with that day’s date. Then as you go about your business you will catalog the people you meet, the routes you take and the paper you read. Maybe you would set out after all this to find the Western Union office to send a telegram all the while recording your movements around Paris/New York/Tokyo/Montevideo. Then again and again and forever.
The way a prisoner marks his cell, On Kawara marks time; boring and beautiful and maybe sublime (as Peter Schjeldahl suggested in the New Yorker). What is certain is that the marking of the movements and moments of his life was paramount. Kawara, best known for the Date Paintings, entitled Everyday Meditations here, created troves of information as historiography. His I MET diary cataloged the people Kawara encountered daily. I READ: binders of annotated news clippings. I WENT: mimeographed maps with analog demarcated routes. This constant journaling or cataloging happens with his painting as well. There are journals of color swatches and calendars with each completed painting noted.
The one thing that isn’t Kawara about Kawara is the 1,000,000 years before and after he was born. Here he catalogs all of the time that time will be cataloged on a typewriter. No one was around to start it nor will be around at the end. I guess he wanted to be sure someone did that job, if only the once.
What you make of On Kawara – Silence at The Guggenheim is up to you. I find a monumental beauty in it. If you look at the felled redwood tree or exposed rock striation you get the same sense of history. Kawara gives us an encyclopedic time capsule. Mundane. Sublime. Singular. Complete.
-Jeff Bergman FEB. 26, 2015