July 16, 2014

Biography Of On Kawara: 29,771 Days

Most reports of On Kawara's death place it on July 10, the day the news was made public. I have heard from sources who would know that the artist passed away as much as two weeks earlier. Given the nature of Kawara's practice, it seems like a non-trivial point to identify the actual date. Given his family's prerogative and their loss, it seems indelicate to speculate or pry.

As Roberta Smith wrote in her NY Times obituary for Kawara, published today,

Mr. Kawara's family declined to provide the date of death or the names of survivors, in keeping with his lifelong penchant for privacy.
But she also ends with this:
Keeping the viewer focused on time's incremental, day-by-day omnipresence was one reason for Mr. Kawara's deliberately low profile and his habit of listing his age in exhibition catalogs in terms of the number of days he had been alive as of the show's opening date. In the catalog to a show at the David Zwirner Gallery, an otherwise blank page titled "Biography of On Kawara" put the count at 26,192 days on Sept. 9, 2004. Last week the gallery calculated he had reached 29,771.
When news of Kawara's death began to circulate, his birthdate, via Wikipedia, was reported as January 2, 1933. Wikipedia's citation is the Encyclopedia Britannica. But calculating back from the Zwirner show results in a birthdate of Dec. 25, 1932.

The artist's bio in Henning Weidemann's book, On Kawara is reported as "(June 9, 1991) 21,351 days," which also calculates back to Dec. 25, 1932.

Given this birthdate, it becomes clear that Kawara's family and gallery chose to report, on his own terms, not his death, but the culmination of his life, 29,771 days later, on June 29, 2014.

Update: Now we have a situation. Dia lists Kawara' bio as "29,622 days on January 15, 2014," which calculates back to a birthdate of Dec. 10, 1932. Now I feel compelled to cross-check Kawara's other published biographies. Any citations are appreciated.

The canonical source, such as it goes, would be Kawara's own 100-Year Calendar, on which he indicates he was born Dec. 24, 1932. Which could mean everything above is off by one day.

According to Weidemann, filling in a dot on his calendar was the very last thing he'd do every day. A green dot meant one date painting. A red dot meant more than one; a yellow dot meant none. It's conceivable that the artist lived through the 29,771st day, the 28th, but did not complete the 29,772nd. Suddenly, this calculation feels intrusive.

Other biographies:

For the opening of On Kawara 1973 --One Year's Production at Kunsthalle Bern, his bio reads, "(August 16, 1974) 15 211 Tage." [Dec. 24, 1932.]

Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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first published: July 16, 2014.

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