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. ┬áSituated 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

Phil Wagner at UNTITLED Gallery

The exhibition “It’s Been Too Long” at the UNTITLED Gallery on Orchard Street features a recent (2015) series of paintings based on telephone numbers. Wagner has randomly selected telephone numbers from the NYC and LA white pages. He paints columns of the enlarged numbers.

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The numbers have been painted with uneven brush strokes so that the resulting numerals look as if they have been stamped with an old fashioned rubber stamp and ink pad onto the parchment-colored background. These paintings are an exploration into society’s association with numbers. The rows and columns of numerals become abstract geometric patterns. Removed from the initial source they lose their meaning and purpose. The whole concept of a paper telephone directory is becoming obsolete. In this digital age the once important pages are becoming visual artifacts.

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The gallery installation fills an entire room with these canvases, creating an environment of numerals. As some one who likes to work with numbers, I found it quite soothing, almost meditative. It makes me think of all of the other places we see numbers: train cars, mileage signs along the road, credit card numbers, etc… and never stop to think about the aesthetics. Numbers are an important part of our lives but quite often we tend to only use them for practical applications, never stopping to appreciate their visual qualities.

Susan Happersett