Monday, April 20, 2015

At the Guggenheim: On Kawara - Silence

Photo: David Heald, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

The current exhibition at the Guggenheim New York, On Kawara - Silence, which runs until May 3rd, is particularly strong in its emphasis on the wide range of the artist's long term practices. 

The 'Today' series is afforded pride of place. But the postcards, the journals, the faxes, the maps and the calendars are also accorded considerable attention.


The outcome is an exhibition that accentuates the diaristic nature of On Kawara's art. Interested viewers can move from vitrine to vitrine and find out a fair amount of information about what the artist was doing on any particular day. We can learn when he woke up, what he read, where he went and where he was staying, who he met, and whether or not he chose to work on a painting that day.

As Jeffrey Weiss writes in his excellent catalogue essay, the record-keeping produces something that might remind us of a diary. But it has a different status to standard diaries, because it is more than mere documentation of events and actions that have happened. Instead, the activities that the documents tell us about were initiated so that Kawara could generate the documents. 

Diarists don't usually decide to do things so that they can write about them in their diaries.

Unless, of course, they are interested in the literary and fictional status of their writings. Weiss' approach to Kawara is to encourage us to think harder about his 'narrative voice', and the performative ways in which he chooses to narrate his life for posterity.