On Kawara was deeply concerned with the ways humans experience and record time. Kawara began his Today Series of paintings on January 4, 1966, and continued to work on them until his death in mid-2014. Adhering to a rigorous set of rules that he established, Kawara required that each painting be completed on the date depicted on its surface and in the language and grammar of the country in which it was completed. In addition to these formal conventions, the Today Series paintings are stored in handmade cardboard boxes along with a clipping from the local newspaper. Occasionally these boxes are exhibited, and particularly in earlier works, phrases or text from the clippings would form part of the title as well. Combining the individual with the universal, the Today Series is both a deeply personal journey (asserting that I was here on this day), but also the story of humanity and struggles experienced on a much larger scale—as captured through the lens of daily newspaper reportage.
The Today Series was presented at Dia Center for the Arts from January 1 through December 31, 1993; each calendar month saw a different rotation of Date Paintings, chosen exclusively from those made in New York City—a thousand works in total. Kawara’s One Million Years was also presented for the first time as an audio piece in that exhibition. Alternating between two voices, a female reader for even years and a male reader for odd years, One Million Years is an oral reading from Kawara’s twenty four-volume publication by the same title. Both artworks reflect the influences of the micro and macro in Kawara’s work, and how an individual lifespan forms a part of human history.
On Kawara was born in Kariya, Japan, in 1933. He died in New York City in 2014.