Like many New Yorkers, I went to this show because the Doug Wheeler exhibit next door was full. On my way into the David Zwirner Gallery, I ran into Emma Harden, who introduced me to Raluca Ancuta. We were talking about Bennington, in the cold, when suddenly I realized: "I better enter the gallery before it closes!" It was 5:58.
The rooms were empty. The best way to see minimalist art is in a vacant gallery. The paintings are no longer "up for inspection;" they are at ease.
On Kawara paints the date in white letters, on a black background -- always capitalized. The Zwirner has his very first date painting, from January 4, 1966. On has painted them in 136 cities, which are listed in chronological order in the western gallery. Sometimes he abbreviates the month, and other times he doesn't. I recorded some unusual month-names:
I spoke to a woman behind a desk. "If he's in a country where they don't use the Roman alphabet, he'll write the month in Esperanti," she explained. (She must have meant Esperanto, the universal language invented by L. L. Zamenhof in 1887.)
Standing in the room with dozens of On's canvases, I felt calm, oceanic. His paintings emit a suave contentment. They have a higher purpose, which we don't understand, and probably On doesn't, either. Art is not about understanding, luckily. Art is about "art emotions" -- feelings that can only exist on canvas. Art emotions often make you feel like laughing and crying at once.
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