On Kawara's "One Million Years" visits Zwirner

the long count continues

Figuratively, I've probably been walking around his neighborhood for several decades, because I've been encountering single examples of and groupings of On Kawara's "The Today Paintings" since at least the early 80's. Until I walked into "One Million Years" however, his current show at David Zwirner [closing this Saturday] I confess I never knew what was actually going on inside the vast, minimalism/maximalism of this artist's cerebral precinct. Although I still can't claim a complete understanding of it, since I snapped this image inside the gallery last week I think I can say I'm now on the same planet - and in the same century.

For me it all came together for the first time when I saw and heard these two volunteers taking turns reading off (performing and recording) the successive dates which compose this awsome work's simple, descriptive title while seated inside a temporary studio, a sound technician posted outside.

Did I mention that when I walked out onto 19th Street I felt like I had just left a great temple? And I haven't a spiritual bone in my body, or at least that's what I've always thought. I highly recommend the experience. Go, if you can, and stay a few minutes. If you're with a friend, and you say something while you're there, you're certain to be whispering.

A million years? We're none of us there yet (I'm guessing the "readers" are only somewhere around the 40th millennium right now, even though these readings have been going on, and off, at different sites all over the world since 1993). Also, none of us will live to see this conceptual (and also very real) performance completed, but I'm thinking what an extraordinary privilege it is to be a part of it - although I have to live with the thought that, even if it weren't a question of money, this audiophile would never be able to listen to the entire CD set.

I'll just have to be content with the more miniature epic song projects of Kawara's rivals, like Wagner, Feldman, Stockhausen and La Monte Young.

Zwirner's notes provide a background for the continuing audio project currently visiting the gallery in this description of the original, printed work:

One Million Years is a monumental 20-volume collection, comprised of One Million Years [Past], created in 1969 and containing the years 998,031 B.C. through 1969 A.D., and One Million Years [Future], created in 1981 and containing the years 1996 A.D. to 1,001,995 A.D. Together these volumes make up 2,000,000 years. The subtitle for One Million Years [Past] is "For all those who have lived and died." The subtitle for One Million Years [Future] is "For the last one."

ADDENDUM: It's a few minutes since I wrote the above. I've just read Jerry Saltz's piece in New York magazine. I had already decided to write about "One Million Years" when I saw it but I wouldn't let myself read it until I had finished my own brief account. I was afraid I'd be scared off by his erudition and charm.

As it turns out, I certainly would have been; this blog slot would have used for something else: For this particular task, Jerry had, among his many other advantages, his brilliance as a critic and writer, and the nobility - and the guts - to actually volunteer to read a section of the text - to be an integral part of the piece itself. It's really great, and great fun. It's titled "Reeling In the Years" and you can find it here.

p.s. While looking for the article on line I discovered Jerry's homage to Steely Dan, and this.