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On Kawara was one of the most popular conceptual artists, and his Today Series, made of single Date Paintings, are exhibited all around the world.
A single piece of the series is composed by a painting (the artist used only three standard sizes, not too big anyway) with a plain color as a background and a date hand-painted on it. The painting comes in a box made exactly for its dimensions, of which the inside is covered with a page of the newspaper of the date of the painting. Although the background color varies, it is dark, black, most of the times. The language of the written date is the one spoken in the country Kawara was living at the moment of the realisation. The painting had to be made in one single day, the day it was referring to: if not finished it would have had to be destroyed.
Alongside with the paintings, Kawara was keeping a journal and a calendar of all his Date Paintings (this is a reason why it is impossible to duplicate as a forgery). In all his life he produced almost 3,000 Date Paintings.
It may seem very simple and very basic, but it resembles a concept that in art comes up very often: an artist’s obsession over something. For Yayoi Kusama, for example, it was the obsession of dots (you can see an example here), for Roman Opalka it was numbers and their infinite (read his story here). For On Kawara it was dates and time. It is a very interesting way to capture time, to make every moment unforgettable, every day valuable. Every painting is related to On Kawara’s personal life, where he was, what happened on that day, even the colors and the sizes he was choosing day by day had an importance. Every detail has a significance: the fact that the painting is so precise, so ordered, the fact that he used basically the same font every time, the sizes, the accumulation. Everything cooperates together to create a feeling of the time passing by.
The Today Series is much more than a black painting with a date written on it: it is a life-long project, a reflection on time and a precise philosophy of living.