Candida Höfer, On Kawara, Date Paintings in Private Collections
I have a great appreciation that the only information I know about On Kawara is in his art works. I have no image in my mind of what he looked like, have never heard his voice or read an interview with him. Ed Ruscha created a pre-digital version of Google Street View, while On Kawara’s main projects are a pre-digital quantified self, the collection and display of personal metadata. A man wakes on a date, paints the date. A man sends a telegram, a ping, that reads only “I am still alive.” (Replicated on the Twitter.) A man takes a walk and tracks the walk on a photocopied map (“I Went”).
The interesting aspect about Höfer’s book, photographed between about 2004 and 2007, is most of the rooms are in regular homes, especially in Japan, where the spaces are smaller and understated. Paging through the book, you can pay attention to where the paintings live, and whose collection they are in (the photograph with the bench is Thomas Struth’s), or not. What seems at first to be a kind of minimalist art, noting the date in a standardized pattern is put in the context of living rooms. The scale of most of the paintings is important; they are what we now consider small, but are the perfect size for a living room. These paintings are chamber music that can add up to a symphony when you see them in a museum context (dozens displayed in a gallery). The photographs together feel like a true portrait of a family of paintings, that happens to live in many different countries.
When news came yesterday of On Kawara’s death, his Wikipedia entry briefly looked like this, which seemed appropriate.