Having started out in the early 1950s making Surrealist-inspired pictures of cataclysmic domestic scenes, Kawara left his native Japan in 1959 and, after sojourns in Mexico and France, settled in New York in 1965. During his time in Paris, Kawara experimented with a variety of styles, in the course of which he began making drawings based on calendars. These works prepared the ground for the conceptual leap he made shortly after his arrival in New York, resulting in a dramatic reorientation of his art and the integral programming of his production.
On January 4, 1966, Kawara made the first of his "Today" series, of which the work in this collection, April 24, 1990, is an example. Each consists of a neatly hand-lettered canvas commemorating the day of its creation. The canvases are stored in specially made cardboard boxes containing pages from a local newspaper of the same day and from whatever place the peripatetic artist happened to find himself in when he made the painting. Kawara does not paint every day—in the first year of this series, he made 241 such works—nor are all his canvases identical; the background tone varies from grays to reds to blues, and the typeface changes as well....
Kawara's idiosyncratically interconnected tabulations encompass both the small routines that measure out quotidian existence and the virtual infinity of millennia succeeding millennia. At either extreme, Kawara takes care to remind us how time's passage simultaneously isolates individuals in their own reality and binds them to collective reality. This divided consciousness is explicit in April 24, 1990. Like every other painting of its kind, it is the work of a man sitting alone at his desk. The physical encapsulation of the time it took to make (because of the layering of paint and the necessary drying periods, completion of each tablet- or tombstonelike work takes many hours), it adds to the series as a whole while it counts down, and so subtracts from, the unknown remainder of its creator's days.
Publication excerpt from Robert Storr, On the Edge: Contemporary Art from the Werner and Elaine Dannheisser Collection, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1997, pp. 72-73.