On Kawara at MOMA

Currently on display Museum of Modern Art, “Scenes for a New Heritage” is a fresh reinstallation of the Museum’s collection of contemporary art. The first work you encounter as you enter the gallery is On Kawara’s “One Million Years (Past and Future)”. A limited edition Artist Book published in 1999 by Editions Micheline Szwajcer and Michele Didier, Brussels.  Situated on a white pedestal in a clear vitrine the book features rows and columns of numerical years in sequence from 998,031 BC to 1.001,992 AD.

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As you get close to the vitrine to study the book, a voice reads out the numbers of a year. There is a speaker in the front of the stand. If you stand close to the pedestal another year in consecutive order is read out. The voice on the recording alternates between male and female. The audio recording was produced by the David Zwirner Gallery NY in 2000. This installation at the MOMA is really two works of art, the visual component in the form of a book and a poetic component in the reading of the dates.

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On Kawara is very famous for his paintings of single dates on canvas. I feel this installation reflects a deeper connection to Mathematics. The emphasis on the listing of numbers makes the viewer think about how we mark time using digits and order. The act of counting to this huge number of one million creates an extremely emotionally charged audio experience. The number are just as poignant as any other words in expressing the vastness and continuity of time.

Susan Happersett

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