“EVERYTHING IS ARCHITECTURE.” We are starting to understand the author of this powerful and enigmatic statement anew. His complex thought and the holistic approach with which he made his debut in the 1960s as artist, publicist, designer, and activist—before he designed his first proper building, the Museum Abteiberg in Mönchengladbach—have a great timeliness today. Two exhibitions in Mönchengladbach and Vienna were to honor him on his eightieth birthday and initiate the public rediscovering him on this occasion—sadly, they became retrospectives which he never saw before his death on April 24th.

Hans Hollein called for a fundamental discussion about the meaning of architecture. As he observed the realization of modernity in the 1950s and ’60s, he recognized the necessity for an interdisciplinary form of work (“Architects have to stop thinking in terms of buildings only,” as he put it), for a highly technological and mediatized understanding of the future environment (as envisioned in his work on the “non-physical environment,” the “mobile office,” and the extension of the University of Vienna through cable and TV in the photomontage Extension of the University of Vienna, 1966) as well as for a humane and social form of building that referred back to the origins of architecture: First, the retention of body heat; second providing a setting for cult and ritual.

He conceived of architecture as an anthropological, psychological, and sociological phenomenon, as cultural existence. In this lay a fascinating proximity to the artists of his generation, particularly to Pop, Minimal, and Conceptual art, with which he was acquainted very early on and partly received, partly anticipated. He was friends with Claes Oldenburg but was also interested in Robert Morris, whose works he published in 1968 in the legendary Austrian architecture journal BAU. Crucial questions in the visual arts provided parallels and points of reference for his thesis “Everything is Architecture.”

Hans Hollein’s thought had a close connection to the fundamentally emancipatory social thought of the 1960s and ’70s that was the true beginning of the so-called postmodern. The major cultural figures at that time raised questions concerning art and architecture equally. They wanted to redefine both disciplines entirely and, in their collective thinking, called for new self-reflection. In particular, they wanted to see museums take on new roles as public institutions and wanted to see them occupy new buildings accordingly. In the fall of 1967, Joseph Beuys brought Hollein—who had then only designed a fourteen-square-meter candle store (although it had been recognized by the prestigious R. S. Reynolds Memorial Award from the US)—to the Düsseldorf Art Academy as a professor of architecture. Three years later, in the midst of the early exhibitions of Beuys, Carl Andre, Daniel Buren, Marcel Broodthaers, Hanne Darboven, and Gerhard Richter, Hollein had his own exhibition in the old Städtisches Museum in Mönchengladbach right next door: “TOD (Death).” In 1976, he created the exhibition “Man Transforms: Aspects of Design” for the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York, another legendary, and all-too-forgotten, cultural-historical exhibition. Here, in order to interpret important advances in the history of design, he presented an astonishingly wide range of artifacts, including a large collection of hammers that began with hand axes from the Neolithic era. Hollein’s later exhibitions attracted more attention at the time, although they, too, are almost forgotten today: “The Turks before Vienna” at the Künstlerhaus (Vienna) and the Museum of Vienna in 1983, and “Dream and Reality Vienna from 1870 to 1930,” at the same venues from 1984-85.

Hollein’s design for the Museum Abteiberg, which he began in 1972 although the building was not completed until 1982, was the result of a commission from the director, Johannes Cladders—a choice that perfectly captured the brilliance and ambition of their generation. It was the fulfillment of an institutional dream and a parallel (or alternative) model to the Centre Pompidou in Paris by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano. Hollein’s design certainly did not intend the dissolution of the museum in favor of a culture factory, an usine or raffinerie. The Museum Abteiberg was conceived almost exclusively for the presentation of its collection. Within the context of that period’s utopianism, it became a manifesto for an entirely new art museum that was meant to represent the new artistic ideals of the time: Art should be relocated from the pedestal to the floor and from the wall into real space. And it was meant to emancipate viewers, who would no longer follow the didactics of the writers of art history but rather their own eyes and conclusions. It was a museum of spaces like labyrinths, no longer structured according to historical dates, -isms, schools, or epochs. Today’s young artists and art historians understand Hans Hollein without knowing anything about him. And they fill the Museum Abteiberg with an urgent discussion concerning the role of art and museums today, forty years after Beuys, Broodthaers, Darboven, Buren, Richter, and all the others.

Hans Hollein’s architecture for Mönchengladbach, but also for the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt (1983–91) or Vulcania, a museum and park focusing on volcanos, in Auvergne, France (1994–2002), represent architectonic ideals which, strangely enough, form no school: If one overlooks Frank O. Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (opened in 1997) and just a few other buildings, global museum culture has evolved backwards to the cubically ordered, the straight and supposedly neutral, giving the highest priority to the big white cube and the aura that comes from having five meters of empty space around every exhibited object. One could call it reactionary, or at the very least conservative, because it has led back to the experience of the sublime, which today also the financially erotic object.

It’s sad that Hans Hollein only experienced his new resonance for a short time. His “walk-on buildings,” his substantive, sociocultural, and anthropological arguments for a specific kind of architecture are being rediscovered by a new generation of artists and students of architecture today. Even those who may have previously held a critical opinion of works such as the Museum Abteiberg, the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt—or Hollein’s whole oeuvre—look at it now in a completely new light. One notices how topical Hollein’s thoughts could become right now, as substantive questions about institutions and their architecture are so seldom discussed. One big question: Did Hollein—the Viennese universal artist and curmudgeon, who in recent years fell into the shadows and would happily charge us latecomers with epigonism when we stepped to close to him—notice that we are now building him a pedestal? I personally hope that he did.

Susanne Titz is the director of the Museum Abteiberg in Mönchengladbach, Germany, where a retrospective of Hans Hollein's work runs until September 28, 2014.

Hans Hollein in his mobile office, 1969, Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris, Musée National d’Art Modern/Centre de Création Industrielle. Photo: Atelier Hans Hollein.

HANS HOLLEIN WAS A UNIVERSALIST. He was an architect, designer, artist, publicist, theoretician, teacher, curator, general director, and maker of exhibitions. Even before Joseph Beuys said “Everyone is an artist,” Hollein wrote: “Everything is architecture.” As a universalist, Hollein is a consummator of modernity, in particular of Viennese modernity from Josef Hoffmann, Adolf Loos, Friedrich Kiesler, and Rudolph Michael Schindler to Richard Neutra. Like them, he developed a universal visual vocabulary that he could apply to shops, furniture, objects of everyday use, jewelry, spaces, and buildings. Yet with his architecture of metaphors, metamorphoses, and transformations—his exhibition at the Centre Pompidou was called “Métaphores et Métamorphoses” (1987)—and with his recourse to and appropriation of historical citations, he was also an architect of the postmodern. Hollein was futurologist and archaeologist in one. His vision of architecture was dialectical, shaped by oppositions: visions of space travel and funerary monuments, Apollo 13 rockets and pueblo buildings, aircraft carriers and Gothic architecture were his references. His architecture consists of the dialectic of three vectors: digging, piling up, and forming. Architecture spreads out in all directions, all the way to weightless floating in space like a cloud. His pneumatic sculptures served as a mobile office (1969).

For a long time, Hollein built little and was better known for his manifestos and utopian collages (which can be found today, for example, in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York). But the little that he built caused a furor: The Retti candle shop in Vienna (1965–66) and the Museum Abteiberg in Mönchengladbach (1972–82) were both trendsetting projects. By the end of his life, he was building on all continents simultaneously, skyscrapers and cultural buildings from Peru to China. Hollein started with visual collages because he recognized the importance of visuality for architecture just as did Le Corbusier. Since the historical moment at which architecture was represented in magazines—since Le Corbusier, in other words—the importance of visuality and its history for architecture can no longer be denied. In the age of mass media, architecture inevitably operates in the realm of historical references. Hollein found an autonomous answer to the problem this presents culture: namely, the method of the allusion. The allusive technique allows the architect to regulate the degree of narration or abstraction and control the shift between reference and innovation, between reality and utopia. Hollein’s architecture is a lexicon of the history of the built environment. At the same time, even in his beginnings, he was showing the way to the future of architecture.

His first act of worship was architecture: on the one hand, cult and ritual, on the other, technology and outer space. His next act was the avowal of media. Already in 1963, he designated the city as communication interchange. “Architecture is a medium of communication,” he wrote in 1967. For this reason, for the Olympic village in Munich in 1972, he built Media linien (Media lines), a comprehensive communications network. As early as 1968, he voiced the demand: “Architects have to stop thinking in terms of buildings only.” A building can become pure information, and its message could just as well be experienced solely through information media. With Hollein, architecture becomes immaterial and virtual. Therefore he distinguishes between three categories of architecture: built architecture, physical architecture, and non-physical architecture, as in Neue Medien der Architektur (New Media of Architecture), 1967. “Today our efforts in the environment are considered to form a totality together with all of the media which define them. The television as well as air conditioning, transportation as well as clothes, the telephone as well as housing. Among the most divergent media which define our behavior and our surroundings today, architecture forms one of these media.” Architecture must redefine itself as medium and thereby also expand the range of its means. Architecture must seize the media for itself. Therefore Hollein was interested in the unbuilt, the not-physical. With his turn towards media-based architecture after 1966, he was a pioneer of the digital revolution.

Hollein grasped the transformation of the experience of space through technical media as few other architects did. Because of this, he was a master of scale: Miniatures turn into monuments, sculptures into houses, battleships turn into coffee sets and aircraft carriers into metropolises, radiators into skyscrapers. Scale in the technical age has “no direct relationship to the human being anymore,”—unlike Le Corbusier’s proportions-system Modulor (1943-45)—he argued in his manifesto of 1960, Plastic Space. Hollein was always close to contemporary art, or more precisely, he was a part of contemporary art. For example, in his utopian and visionary architecture-collages, he was one of the best Pop artists in the tradition from Richard Hamilton to Claes Oldenburg.

Hollein was an artist who built spaces that oscillate between Minimal art and Arte Povera, archaic objects such as biers and sickbeds, but also produced postmodern variations on columns such as Strada novissima, 1980. He participated as an artist in the Venice Biennale in 1972 and in Documenta 8 in 1987. He participated as an architect in the Architecture Biennale in 2000 and 2006 in Venice and became its general director in 1996. In 1985 he received the Pritzker Prize. He was the curator of numerous exhibitions from Vienna to Milan, from New York to Venice. His retrospective as artist-architect moved from the Centre Pompidou in Paris to the National Gallery in Berlin (1987–88). In 2011 and ’12, the Neue Galerie Graz presented the first comprehensive show of his work accompanied by an extensive publication, and in 2014 there was an exhibition at the Museum Abteiberg Mönchengladbach and in the MAK Vienna.

He was a world-class architect like Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Richard Buckminster Fuller, who gathered together all of the art practices of his time. With his new spatial vocabulary, Hollein liberated architecture from the prison of horizontal and vertical coordinates and erected buildings that liberate human beings from the prison of space, which is to say, he made the planet Earth habitable for humankind.

Peter Weibel is an artist, curator, and theorist as well as Chairman and CEO of the ZKM | Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe.

MARILENA BONOMO HAS BEEN my dear friend for four-and-a-half decades. I met her in Spoleto. Our mutual friend Sol LeWitt introduced us with the recommendation, “You will be friends.”

We became family.

We became a family through art and the circle of deep friendships Marilena drew around us. Her gallery was not simply a place to exhibit art. As well, it was a continuing art event in itself, conducted with love, tremendous insight, and always with grace. The event went from gallery to her home to her family, and to the family of artists, creating a huge circle of art and intimate friendships. It was wonderful to visit Marilena. Her elegant and at once familiar atmosphere informed and encouraged so many of us. It was uncanny how she produced beautiful meals, and then at dinner discussed art, philosophy, and made plans for the next exhibition together.

Over the years, so many artist friends from Italy and abroad passed by the Eremo in Spoleto and the Bari gallery to say hello. Sol and Carol LeWitt lived for a time in a small farmhouse near the Eremo on Monteluco, an hermitage that was the Bonomo summer residence. Alighiero Boetti was a beloved friend. Richard Tuttle, Mel Bochner, Nicola De Maria, Jannis Kounellis, Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed, and countless others visited the Bonomo family at the Eremo. Some left their art behind on the walls, traces of presence and friendship.

One winter, I was young and poor and between an exhibition in Paris and one at her gallery in Bari, and I moved into the Eremo without telling Marilena, same as I would move into my sister’s home. Marilena had become my sister. I shared a birthday (April 10th) with Marilena; we spoke or visited every birthday, Christmas, and Easter. Once we had a birthday show at her gallery in Bari. Our families merged with Marilena’s family and with the families of other of her artists, a huge circle of connections. Over the years her daughter Valentina lived in my home in Amsterdam. I live with her daughter Alessandra when I’m in Rome. Alessandra’s son Nicola lived with my husband and me in New York. Art was the life in the Bonomo household. Alessandra and Valentina opened individual galleries in Rome. The middle daughter, Gogo, studied archaeology, then went into science like her doctor father.

While spending a year in Dallas with her husband Lorenzo, Marilena became familiar with emerging American artists. She became a docent at the museum. Marilena and Lorenzo began collecting art. Back in Bari, she returned to school and studied philosophy.

With tremendous intuition, insight, and love, Marilena fully, whole-heartedly supported art and artists. Above all, she was drawn to, and exhibited, the unknown and unfamiliar in art, the breakthrough art of her time. In doing so she placed the city of Bari, in Puglia, on the international art-world map. Marilena was a daring pioneer, exhibiting lesser-known (at the time) contemporary art. She opened her gallery in 1971 with a breakthrough exhibition of barely known artists, many of them American, including Robert Barry, Bochner, Boetti, Buren, Darboven, Dibbits, Fabro, Huebler, LeWitt, Paolini, Ryman, and Weiner. Through the years, Galleria Marilena Bonomo exhibited many Italian artists and international artists from Europe, the US, and Japan.

Marilena Bonomo is all heart for me, all feeling.

Already in failing health, this past April she took her first visit out of Bari in two years. She came to see me during my installation of a wall painting at Alessandra’s gallery in Rome. I was thrilled and honored. Still beautiful, she sat in a chair, cane in hand, watching me paint. “A little more white,” she called. “A little more black on the left… No! More over there!”

Just like in the old days.

We all laughed.

Pat Steir is an artist based in New York.

On Kawara, FEB 5, 2006, 2006, liquitex on canvas, 10“ x 13 1/2”.

I MET ON KAWARA ON OCT. 25, 1991 AT 4 PM. He lived just a few streets over from my apartment in SoHo, but it might as well have been miles and lifetimes away. Until that day, he only existed for me through his work, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Before you meet an artist, you have an image of the person by way of what they do, which was particularly the case with On. To look at a Date painting from his “Today” series was, in a sense, to see him sitting quietly at his desk, from the back, of course, carefully brushing the ground on which he would paint the letters and numbers to record the date, a form of daily meditation. I wanted to borrow one of his Date paintings for a show I was organizing around the year 1969. Luckily I knew Katia Perlstein, slightly, and she was happy to make an introduction. Her father, Sylvio, the Belgian jeweler and diamond dealer, was an early collector of On’s, whom I was aware of by name and by his Antwerp address, probably from telegrams or postcards On had sent him. That afternoon, my image of On shifted from the art to the person, who turned out to be warm and engaging, talkative, but a good listener, serious and also easily amused, often by his own remarks. As I recall, he laughed and smoked a lot.

Years before, I had devoured the catalogue continuity/discontinuity 1963–1979, published for the show mounted by Björn Springfeldt at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 1980. What struck me most in that catalogue—and still does—is a section listing the subtitles that accompany the Date paintings. Commencing on Jan. 4, 1966, On would paint the date on which the painting was made, giving them subtitles taken from that day’s newspaper, or from events or observations in his own life. In the fall of 1972, however, he decided that the subtitles would simply identify the day of the week, deviating only by the language of the place where they were made—Monday, Tuesday, Mittwoch, Torsdag, Vendredo, Sábado, Dimanche. But with the earliest subtitles, there is a narrative that reveals much about this reclusive artist—his sense of humor, curiosity, absurdity, and pathos, how wondrous and troubled the marking of time could be—and situates his paintings within their historical context. There is at times a high level of poetry to be found there, even of autobiography, unexpected for someone who chose not to be photographed or interviewed, who shunned that sort of distraction, who was already present in his work and in the first person: I Met, I Went, I Read, I Got Up, I Am Still Alive. This aspect of presence and remove stands in stark contrast to artists today who willingly assist in the promotion of themselves and their work. In many ways, On was an artist from another time.

The majority of the subtitles gives us a strong sense of the sociocultural milieu and how politically charged that era had been:

Jan. 31, 1966 “U.S.A. began to bomb North Vietnam Again.”
June 17, 1966 “An 18-year-old girl, Dao Thi Tuyet, poured gasoline over herself in Saigon’s Buddhist Vien Hoa Dao Pagoda headquarters and struck a match.”
June 19, 1967 “Black Power in the United States.”
July 21, 1969 “Apollo 11 at the Distance of 238,857 Miles from the Earth”
Dec. 27, 1971 “An American flag flying upside down from the crown of Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island, New York.”

There are those that attest to his state of mind and physical well-being:

Mar. 20, 1966 “Taeko kissed me. I asked her ‘are you all right?’”
May 29, 1966 “I am afraid of my ‘Today’ paintings.”
Dec. 31, 1966 “To make a hole in a day as a nap.”
July 10, 1967 “I have a dull pain in my eyes.”
July 17, 1971 “I got up at 11.38 A.M. and painted this.”

His sense of humor and the absurd, often with references to pop culture, emerge:

Jan. 25, 1966 “Beatles and their neutrality.”
Apr. 10, 1966 “You can’t quite sentimentalize Easter.”
May 28, 1966 “Are your ideas on computers worth shouting about?”
Dec. 22, 1966 “‘The LSD I am proposing is literal.’ says Allen Ginsberg, in The East Village Other.’”
Mar. 4, 1967 “There’s too much lettuce in California now.”

There are interactions with other artists:

Feb. 4, 1967 “C. Oldenburg and J. Klein came to my studio this afternoon. In the evening I went to Oldenburg’s studio to ask him if I could use my asking him as the title of this painting.”
May 22, 1967 “Sol LeWitt and a pack of Pall Mall.”
May 23, 1967 “This afternoon Dan Graham dropped a letter into the mailbox at the corner of Eldridge and Grand Streets in New York.”
Nov. 28, 1967 “My letter from Ray Johnson was postmarked somewhere in New York City this afternoon.”
Mar. 29, 1968 “Roy Lichtenstein was wearing a red sweater this evening.”

On’s particular interests and their poignancy are revealed:

Feb. 14, 1967 “Da Vinci's manuscripts which were produced between 1491 and 1505.”
Feb. 22, 1967 “Laughter from beyond space.”
Jan. 7. 1970 “An extraordinary candy-stripe pattern has been found on a microscopic scale, in some lunar rocks.”
Jan. 23, 1970 “A death mask stolen, of James Joyce.”
Mar. 30, 1972 “A party of 28 Chinese table-tennis players in Ottawa, Canada.”

Many of the subtitles resound all these years later, and probably always will, but one stands out for all time:

Dec. 3, 1966 “A baby crying through history.”

Another catalogue that I had when we first met is from a project in which On participated, “18 Paris IV. 70,” initiated by the critic Michel Claura, comprising three consecutive parts. The invited artists were asked, over a brief period, to make, reconsider, and finalize a proposal, either changing or keeping their initial response, and On sent three telegrams. Considering the high Conceptualism of that time, On’s contribution is all the more startling.

The first telegram stated: “I AM NOT GOING TO COMMIT SUICIDE–DON'T WORRY.”
And the final message: “I AM GOING TO SLEEP–FORGET IT.”

The first made sense, in its reassurance that a person would not end his life. The second turned this upside down, for why would someone elicit concern having decided against such a drastic act? The third turns both on end in its matter-of-fact declaration to simply go to bed, advising the recipient to dismiss something he could not have put out of his thoughts so casually. As each telegram was delivered, Michel Claura must have grown increasingly perplexed. I’ve been thinking about those messages for thirty years now, and I still have no idea what On may have had in mind.

That day in 1991 when Katia Perlstein brought me to meet On, this is probably what I most wanted to ask him about, but I certainly did not. I was there for a specific reason, and since we had never met before I was on my best behavior. With an artist as guarded as On, or so I thought, you can’t expect him to begin revealing his secrets from the very first. Over the years, as we would get together now and then, particularly as we worked on the show, “Pictures of the Real World (In Real Time)” in ’94, he would tell me stories about the ways in which various aspects of his work had begun and were brought to a close, and he told them with little or no prompting on my part. These stories helped me to understand the coincidental nature of much of his work: that an art which was deliberate in its making and continued investigation often had quixotic or random points of arrival and departure. You could say the same of a life.

As we sat and talked that first afternoon, I recall that he smoked one cigarette after another. At one point there was a long gray ash dangling at the end of his cigarette which seemed, at any moment, about to collapse under the weight of its fragile composition. I thought: This is an image of time. And just as it was about to drop of its own accord, without taking any notice, On tapped lightly and ashes fell into the ashtray on the low table between us.

Early one morning this past July, a friend came into the kitchen and asked me if I had heard that On Kawara had died. I hadn’t and was taken by surprise. Everything was suddenly still and, suspended in the words just spoken, I was suddenly lost in that clarity of simultaneous comprehension and disbelief. Reflecting on the moment later, it occurred to me that this wasn’t an image of time but of consciousness itself, which is ultimately the only way to grasp the meaning and depth of On’s life and work.

A final subtitle comes to mind:

July 25, 1966 “I make love to the days.”

Bob Nickas is a critic and curator based in New York.

On Kawara, The One Million Years Project, detail. © On Kawara





Lawrence Weiner is an artist based in New York.

TO SPEAK OF THE WORK OF On Kawara is, in certain respects, to speak of the life—and now, of the death. The artist’s passing deepens an absence that some might say was already there, for he spent the last half century strategically avoiding the public eye. The nature of his art is fairly well known, although it is generally seen in small, refined doses, and its visibility comes and goes: But for an ongoing installation of paintings at Dia:Beacon, the work is shown sporadically in galleries and museums and otherwise can be hard to find.

Kawara was a young star of the postwar Tokyo avant-garde, but he came to consider his early work—precise post-Surrealist representations of bodies (and body parts) floating through “bathroom” and “warehouse” spaces—to be a closed book. In essays he wrote for the Japanese art press during the 1950s, his frustration with the limitations of that work (and much of the new art that surrounded him in Japan) is clear. In 1964, after a period of travel, first to Mexico City and then Paris, Kawara settled in New York, where his friends and acquaintances came to include practitioners of Conceptual art. There he reinvented himself. In 1966, his work began to take a form that would never change. Several categories emerged, including calendars, maps, and lists or inventories, as well as personal communications in the form of tourist postcards and telegrams, each bearing the same message: respectively, I GOT UP AT (produced with a rubber stamp and followed by the time at which said event transpired) and I AM STILL ALIVE. Such works are markers that designate little more—yet nothing less—than Kawara’s very being in the world. At the heart of this practice lies painting: the “Today” series, consisting of paintings inscribed in white acrylic paint against a monochrome ground solely with the date on which the work was made. The palette (variants of very dark gray, blue, and red) and the range of dimensions were predetermined and strict, although colors were hand mixed, and the paintings were produced according to a quasi-rote process supported by fastidious technique. A painting was finished in the course of a given day, or it was destroyed. On some days, two, and very occasionally three were made. Many are stored in hand-formed boxes lined with a cutting from the day’s press.

These terms are simple enough on their face. Yet, in attempting to compose a responsible account of Kawara’s work, it is difficult to be concise. The Kawara system is a superbly rarefied, gamelike construction nesting within the confines—the coordinates—of the everyday. Kawara the artist is author, subject, and object of scrutiny, yet over the course of decades, Kawara the man remained deliberately unrevealed. The subjectivity of the work is explicit, but its personal content consists exclusively of a schematic account of the artist’s whereabouts. This anonymity is critical to the abstract dimension of the work’s systemic form. Kawara’s various applications of the daily press (cuttings pasted inside of a painting’s storage box or mounted on notebook pages for the eighteen three-ring binders that comprise the series called “I Read”) served to assimilate the newspaper’s representation of the events of the world to the habits of daily life. The artist’s travels subjected the temporal predictability of the system to the variable of place; Kawara’s movements—he made paintings in over 130 cities, with the date composed in the language of the city in question—exhibit the restless momentum of quasinomadic travel.

The rhythm of the passing days, which structures the work, also establishes a kind of chronological momentum, one that substitutes for anything like formal or stylistic “development.” Yet the work One Million Years, begun in 1969, which consists of two sets of binders with lists of numbers (“One Million Years Past” and “One Million Years Future”) and a public reading that often coincides with an exhibition of Kawara’s other work, sets the day-to-day nature of his activity, which might be said to amount to so much record-keeping, into an unmovable frame of vast, nonhistorical time.

In preparing a forthcoming exhibition of Kawara’s work for the Guggenheim Museum in New York, I worked with the artist. Despite his warm cooperation, he remained an elusive figure. Our familiarity was distant—as much a case of affection and respect, even reverence, on my part as anything else. But this pull between closeness and distance is of a piece with one’s sensation of the work’s power. The genius of Kawara’s practice is that its existentialism is virtually nonrhetorical, a pure expression of the system as game. Yet these means expose a paradox: The everyday, both in personal and in world-historical terms, can be minutely and tenaciously recorded, yet given the inevitability of death, the significance of that which is mundane can still appear to be unfathomable and, perhaps some days more than others, undeniably absurd. I say that, of course, in the wake—and under the influence—of the artist’s unexpected departure. Kawara would never have openly confirmed or denied such a response to his work. We may see fit to believe that the art possesses far-reaching implications, but claims regarding exactly how or why are strictly ours to make. For Kawara, while the rules of his practice were rigorous, and making the work closely resembled an act of meditation, aesthetic activity itself was wholly without pretense. Never was gravity more lightly borne.

Jeffrey Weiss is senior curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and an adjunct professor of fine arts at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts.