On Kawara / Date Painting

In front of the “Date Painting” by On Kawara, a pioneer of conceptual art born in Japan, I ponder my own memories of the past.

On Kawara. A pioneer of conceptual art, active since the 1950s and 1960s. He is more famous in the world than in Japan. The most famous artwork is “Date Painting”. It involves drawing the date of creation on a rectangular canvas. The concept is that if artwork is not completed by 12:00 midnight that day, it has to be discarded, and the date must be written in the language of the place where it was produced.

This date painting continued for nearly 50 years from 1966 to 2013. On Kawara passed away in 2014, so he was working on it until just before. Assuming that 50 pieces were produced in a year, it means that there are about 3000 pieces. In addition, there is no restriction of one piece per day, and there are days when multiple pieces are produced (However, it seems that there was a rule of up to 3 pieces).

This artwork can be seen in museums around the world. Usually, there are only one or at most three paintings on display. When finding it among other paintings, I feel that the atmosphere around this date painting is different. I often check the year and date written on the painting and wonder what I was doing at that time and what time it was around. As long as person is alive at that time, the date will surely pass through, so it can be said that it is a artwork of “universality” that can be shared by all who view it.

I stumbled across the artwork on my birthday at the Swedish Museum of Modern Art (Moderna Museet) by chance, and I will never forget the shock I felt at that moment. It has a lot to do with my affection for On Kawara, but I am impressed by the fact that a certain artist created an artwork on the day I was born. Yes, the date written on this canvas was produced at exactly that time. It is different from simply writing the date on the canvas. This is the value of this artwork, and this may be everything.

Here, I list the dates of the “Date Painting” I have seen at the art exhibitions I have visited. Basically “Date Paintings” is owned by the museums I have visited. I have noted for the “Date Painting” borrowed from other museums or it was on sale.

If you find your birthday on the list, I would like you to try to visit and see it. In addition, there is an option to purchase, but in the list below, there are some that list the price when they were on sale.

(described on Mar. 26 2023)
(updated on Apr 10 2024)

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