tENTATIVELY, cONVENIENCE's Reviews > On Kawara: 10 Tableaux and 16,952 Pages

On Kawara by Charles Wylie
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Mar 04, 12

bookshelves: art
Read in March, 2012

review of
On Kawara's 10 Tableaux and 16,952 Pages
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - March 4, 2012

This is the 2nd catalog regarding an On Kawara show that I've read in the past few days. The 1st, On Kawara: 1973 - One Year's Production ( http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31... ), I reviewed TWICE - not remembering that I'd already read it & reviewed it almost 4 yrs before. Why? Maybe b/c I found it so 'unmemorable' (at least in the specific rather than the general sense) or maybe b/c I'm getting forgetful.

35 yrs separate the 2 exhibitions that these 2 catalogs are from & there's very little difference between them as far as the work represented is concerned. OK's a "conceptual artist" w/ very few ideas apparently. To me, On Kawara is more like a Kafkaesque low-level functionary in a pointless bureaucracy who's never gotten a promotion b/c he essentially never does anything other than fill out pointless forms that may as well go straight to the incinerator after he's finished w/ them. EXCEPT THAT he's much better pd.

My reviews of the 1973 (1974) catalog are considerably more 'open-minded' toward him - sortof giving him the benefit of the doubt since he was still early in his career. But 35 yrs later? Nah.. This guy's an assembly-line worker cranking out things for the art market that can only be highly valued thru the attachment of abstractions of dubious intelligence.

Nonetheless, he must be a fascinating man. He travels the world thoroughly & w/ great frequency. I suspect that he must speak at least 3 languages: Japanese, Spanish, & English. Speaking of 'intelligence', I started to wonder: is he just independently wealthy? &/or wealthy from sales of his artwork? &/or some sort of Japanese intelligence operative? Of course, this latter is pure speculative fantasy on my part but I decided to do a cursory search for Japanese-covert-intelligence on-line (b/c I cdn't think of the Japanese equivalent of the CIA) so that I cd develop the idea further. I was interested to find this:

According to Strategic Culture Foundation's February 21, 2011 article: "Japan has established a secret foreign intelligence unit for the first time since World War II to spy on China and North Korea and gather information to prevent a terrorist attack, according to an Australian report on Monday, which cites the whistleblower website WikiLeaks." ( http://www.strategic-culture.org/news... ).

& then according to The Fairfield Project: "Kurotokage is a covert intelligence branch of the Japanese government. Its mission is to combat the Mythos as it exists or threatens Japan. It is deeply covert, hidden from all other Japanese intelligence and government agencies, and completely independent. It serves the Emperor directly, and can trace its history back to before the Meiji Restoration." ( http://fairfieldproject.wikidot.com/c... ).

According to the 1981 bk Secret Police - The Inside Story of a Network of Terror by Thomas Plate & Andrea Darvi, Japan had/has only the Security Research Division operating w/in the National Police Agency.

Now the above tangent into whether or not Japan even HAS a covert intelligence agency & whether On Kawara might be an asset to it might seem ridiculously irrelevant. But what I suggest is that it's no more irrelevant than some of the essays that're in this catalog.

Much is made of the OK paintings on wch are painted the following dates: July 16, 1969; July 20, 1969; July 21, 1969:

"Three large works known as the Moon Landing paintings, created on the days on which NASA's Apollo space mission landed and was in residence on the Earth's moon, hang in their own gallery, one on each of the three large walls. Their size, again among the artist's largest, corresponds to the importance of the events that took place on those days; one of the essays the artist chose for this catalogue is testament to this importance and suggests (though does not confirm) Kawara's further ideas for this installation at the Dallas Museum of Art, which will be discussed below." - Charles Wylie, p30

There're 4 main texts here: "Foreword and Acknowledgments" by John R. Lane, Of Today by Charles Wylie, What Is the Contemporary Era - To Have an Alien's Viewpoint by Takafumi Matsui, & Discovering the Interconnected Field by Ervin Laszlo. The 1st sets forth the tale of making the exhibit; the 2nd actually discusses Kawara's work; the 3rd & forth are both 'scientific' & make no mention of Kawara whatsoever. These are the ones the inclusion of wch here I call largely into question.

According to Wikipedia's bio on Kawara: "Kawara does not give interviews or comment about his work." ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Kawara ) That's very conducive to leaving the work open to interpretation but what I wonder is: WHY BOTHER? All of his work is repetitions of simple information:

the Today series are paintings of the date painted on the date in question
the I MET series are typewritten pages listing who he met that day
the I WENT series shows redlines on maps of where he went to that day
the I GOT UP series shows when he got up & where he was that day

Every one of these days was bound to have something of importance to someone happen on it. As such, the "Moon Landing paintings" become associated w/ the moon landings but they are not in any way shape or form as important as the moon landings themselves. So why concentrate on Kawara's paintings? I find the paintings uninteresting & the moon landing fantastic!

So let's try to understand how this relocation of stress from the event (in this case the moon landing) to the feeble associative symbol happens thru art world market manipulation. 1st, there's much less to be gained by people at large & much more to be gained by a small number of financial speculators: it takes part of one day only by one person only (if we, for simplicity's sake, ignore the providers of the canvas, the brushes, the paints, etc) to paint the Today date paintings; it takes yrs & thousands of people to launch a space ship. The painting can then be declared 'important' & displayed in museums while each progressive owner of the paintings increases their prestige & monetary value. A system is neatly in place wch enables something to be valued purely on the say-so of 'experts' & cultural arbiters rather than on any practical criteria. A space ship can get a person to the moon, no easy feat; an On Kawara painting can be used as an object for contemplation - something that ANY object can serve the purpose of.

Here's where the worshipful lingo that parallels religion's comes in:

"By metaphysics we mean that body of inquiry and experience that has dealt in large questions of existence that have inspired the major belief systems the world over. Kawara's art is thus metaphysical, but it is a secular rather than an ecclesiastic metaphysics, if such a thing is possible - yet this seems as valid a way as any to describe what Kawara's work can be seen to embody. There is a fitting correspondence in this installation at the Dallas Museum of Art between Kawara's paintings (set, significantly, on four walls near a transept), dealing as they do in large issues of time and experience, and that of Barnes's Barrel Vault, which - depending on where one is standing - assumes the form and proportions of a Greek- or Latin-cross cathedral. Both paintings and building are about concepts beyond their mere physical properties and suggest things unseen. They do not do this by overt representation of any belief system but by encompassing within themselves certain signs and symbols that reference our experience of time and existence but do not illustrate, let alone, explain it." - Wylie, p36

Sounds impressive, right? & I at least like Wylie's essay for trying to be relevant. But what if we just say this instead: 'The galleries in wch Kawara's exhibit is are shaped like a cross. This cross is a symbol of Christianity wch is a religious belief system & the cross is, therefore, something that implies the whole of that belief system - including things that can't be perceived. Kawara's paintings are dates - wch are part of another system of symbols. We can relate the 2 but we can also relate any other 2 or more symbols to conflate all systems." In other words, why bother? What's accomplished by overemphasizing the connection between these symbols?

I think that what's important here is just the conflating of religion & Kawara's work. & there's another thing at play: what's 'important' to most people is what they experience the most. Advertisers understand this well: the more the market is bombarded by a brand, the more that brand becomes the familiar thing purchased & welcomed into the home. Andy Warhol understood this. His pioneering serialization of things like Campbells soup can images helped make his own paintings as comfortably familiar as the soups themselves. As my alter-ego Tim Ore wrote:



Warhol exemplified this. Kawara does too, in a less obviously market-driven way. I can easily imagine the cultural ignoramus getting to the point of saying: "Oh, yeah, the guy who does those date paintings." In other words, repeat something enuf & it becomes a sortof 'fact' of life.

Lane's foreword states: "Kawara is formidable in his discipline and range." Bullshit. He's so clearly narrow-focus that it's patently idiotic to make such a contrary claim. Range? What range? A few repetitions, that's it! Lane ends w/: "We regard ourselves as specially privileged to have enjoyed the confidence and collaboration of the artist who has, for contemporary cultural circumstances, most eloquently and purely distilled aesthetically the notions of chronological time and the transience of human existence, bringing into vivid form the very idea of being alive." Again, bullshit. This is the kind of thing that a person connected to a museum has to say to justify an exhibit.

Earlier I mentioned Matsui & Laszlo's scientific essays in wch Kawara's work isn't mentioned at all. IMO, these are included purely to associate Kawara's work w/ them as if it, too, represents hi-falutin' & forward-thinking philosophical & physical speculation. If I were to have an exhibit of all the popsicle sticks that I'd gnawed on in my life & if this exhibit were to be accompanied by an entire bk explaining that these sticks were symbolic of everything that's ever gone into anything in all of history wd the sticks then become elevated to a detailed analysis of the food-chain as universe power structure? Probably not - but it wd be more justified than the association of these essays w/ Kawara's work.

Concept(ual) Art & Minimalism & Body Art & Earth Art are all products of roughly the same cultural origins. They're also often boundary-blurred. Kawara's art is 1st & foremost Minimalism w/ a tad of Conceptualism implied. But what's the concept? Kawara ain't tellin'.

I maintain that if an artist has only a few concepts that're very simple then the artist is accepted as 'conceptual' - but if the creative person has thousands of ideas that're very complex then they're rejected as 'incomprehensible'. I say Kawara's in the former category. I look for those in the latter. Kawara is glorified thru the art world b/c his work is convenient for the market & easy to recognize w/o having to think about it.

When I read this bk, I made a fair amt of notes that I'm not bothering to refer to here. In the end, I think something like: 'Why waste my time any more on this?!' Wylie's essay makes the claim that Kawara is "one who is almost superhumanly disciplined in sustaining" & I say that just about ANY person who does repetitive jobs is far more superhuman in this sustaining & that being so is BAD FOR THEIR HEALTH - partially b/c they're not pd as well for it as Kawara is &, therefore, don't have as much freedom.

I love Conceptualism (forget the art) but Kawara is just the package w/o the content.

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read On Kawara.
Sign In »

No comments have been added yet.