On Kawara, Phaidon Press: London, 2002, pp. 26-27.

On Generosity and a Sentence

In 1996 I organized an exhibition entitled "The Materialization of life into alternative economies;" it included works by Joseph Grigely, Paula Hayes, Gordon Matta-Clark, On Kawara, and Mierle Laderman ukeles. The exhibition offered an alternative to John Chandler and Lucy Lippard's argument that the history of conceptual art was on of dematerialization and suggested that, for some, it was (and is) about a materialization of life, with different modes of practice divisible into types of exchange and value. On Kawara’s postcards and telegrams were presented as a form of gift economy. Little did I know that one of the exhibition’s most lasting effects for me would be a friendship with On which is as generous as his work.

It all began one week into the exhibition when I received a call from a man who introduced himself in a polite but almost timid voice as On Kawara. He had noticed a sentence in the gutter of a blank leaf in The Materialization of Life catalogue and had wanted to know where I had gotten it.
1 When he found out that I had written it as part of the catalogue text he explained that he was preparing his first major retrospective and that the title would be “Wholes and Parts.” Would I mind if he quoted me on the cover of his catalogue and on the posters advertising the exhibition? After my initial shock I quickly said yes and, despite later resistance from the publishers, the sentence was widely used. Since then we have met periodically, usually to exchange publications and talk about history.

It should also be noted that On was the only one who ever mentioned the sentence to me.

1. The sentence read: “its always while looking at the part that the whole is seen to be moving.” It was printed in 6 pt. helvetica and was printed on its side.