On Kawara

David Zwirner | 537 West 20th Street

In 1954, when he was barely 7,500 days old, On Kawara exhibited, in Tokyo, a series of drawings of scarred, dismembered bodies. Coming only two years after US-imposed censorship laws were lifted in Japan and a mere nine after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, the drawings—empathetic, dramatic, grotesque—were everything that Kawara’s later Conceptualist work is, apparently, not.

The nebulous link between Kawara’s early and mature work, often thought of as unexpressive and detached, was clarified in “Paintings of 40 Years,” even though the show contained only the latter. Three panels hung alone in the front room, announcing, in white paint against a maroon background, ONE THING, 1965, and VIET-NAM, respectively. The triptych initiated—yet is not considered part of— the artist’s well-known “Today” series, in which dates themselves are the only text. But the two bits of, as it were, effaced

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