Born in Japan, On Kawara is often associated with Conceptualism, a way of working begun in the 1950s by artists in all parts of the world. They sought to make art and life more seamless by producing works in which the idea was of primary importance. Kawara’s TODAY series is an ongoing succession of conceptual paintings begun in 1966, each of which was created on the date indicated and in the language of the country in which it was painted. Each painting takes the artist between eight and nine hours–a full day’s work–to complete. Each object, then, is a literal representation of a day in the artist’s life. In this case, five days he spent in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1989.
Kawara strives to place his own activity within the broader context of world events and to suggest the importance of individual threads of activity within the larger fabric of human endeavor. For the paintings, this is accomplished by boxing each along with the front page of that day’s newspaper. Kawara’s art practice, which has also included sending daily postcards to his friends indicating the time he woke up or the fact that he is still alive, also refers to the “reading of the days”–an ancient Japanese ritual that is practiced in order to predict the arrival of the gods.