This month, our Back to School session addresses topics ranging from self-directed learning to formal pedagogy to the intersections of art and academics. Today from our sister publication Art Practical we bring you a review by Jessica Brier of On Kawara’s project Pure Consciousness. Brier draws connections between the malleability of Kawara’s conceptualist exploration of time and how the placing of his works within kindergartens across the globe challenges the standardization of education. This review was originally published on June 30, 2010.
It’s pretty safe to say that Conceptual Art’s moment has come and gone. Now that we are living in a period in which virtually all art is expected to be “conceptual” in some way or another, it’s refreshing to look back at the origins of Conceptual practice. On Kawara is one of the leading figures of this movement; he is particularly known for his ongoing Today series―iconic canvases painted black, each bearing the date of its own particular creation in bold white block letters. In 1997, Kawara recontextualized seven of these austere works by placing them in kindergarten classrooms across the globe, a social project he titled Pure Consciousness. Since this project existed strictly as a social experiment, the current exhibition in the small overlook gallery of San Francisco Art Institute’s Walter and McBean Galleries modestly showcases the project’s associated ephemera, including a collection of booklets created to document it and the seven paintings themselves.
Kawara is largely known for his sweeping but understated gestures that mark the passage of time. Sometimes these marks are diaristic, other times matter-of-fact. The Today paintings strike me as both―they are personal, in the sense that each is reminiscent of the artist’s hand and reflective of the way he spent a particular day of his life (following his own self-imposed requirement that each one be finished on that given day). But they are also universal, in the sense that anyone can imbue them with his or her own personal associations with that particular date. Aesthetically, they are stark and exact, appearing more like prints than paintings. In this way, Kawara flirts with Minimalism, as well as with the basic principles of graphic design.