David Zwirner is currently presenting Date Painting(s) in New York and 136 Other Cities, a collection of work by On Kawara that spans the 46-year series of paintings. Blending the personal with the historical, the artist’s work uses variations of sans serif fonts and hand-mixed colors to record the date on which he painted the canvas. Kawara consistently exudes a fascination with chronological time, exploring the human perception of its passing, and the nature of our relationship to it. By notching the passage of time and cataloging the procession of his physical life and travels, Kawara creates a body of work that not only testifies to the grand scope of the human life, but also creates a complex interaction with the idea of history—both of the self and of mankind—and the history of the future.
The works are coded based on the size of the canvas and significance of the date on which he paints, with some of the largest paintings reserved for events such as the first landing on the moon. The significance of certain dates, accordingly, evokes the date as signifier, creating a site of shared cultural discourse and memory, particularly when given the context of newspaper clippings included with some—though not all—of the pieces.
The show is divided into two sections, with Kawara’s work from New York City in one space, while his works done abroad are exhibited in another. Offering a locally-grounded perspective for each date, the paintings use slightly different fonts and date formats to give context to his location where the painting was created. A smaller passage-room between the two larger spaces displays a calendar, charting Kawara’s life and work as a series of dots, indicating days alive and days painted, adding greater weight to the exercise’s serial nature.
Kawara is continuing to add to the show during its run, hanging new date paintings as they finish, filling the final wall of the New York room as the show moves towards its close.