Yuji Agematsu and On Kawara
at La Maison de Rendez-Vous, Brussels
February 7 – August 1, 2020
25 July 1971 was a Sunday. "It was 24°C, windy and thundering in New York". While the New York Times provides a paywall for access to the past, it feels apt: having to give some website a fake birth date and my email address in exchange for a weather report that might or might not be accurate. Most likely what I entered into is a future of announcements about a day forty nine years ago, in the middle of the Vietnam War, under Nixon, Brezhnev and Mao, without specific significance to most of those visiting Journalier with Yuji Agematsu & On Kawara at Maison de Rendez-Vous.
On view are recent sculptures by Agematsu, of objects found in Mexico City between April 1 and 13 of last year, picked off the ground and now puncturing the wood-paneled walls of 3 Avenue Jef Lambeaux with moments of color and bright detail: a party of different kinds of sandy tape, fabric and fading string; one of his signature zip cabinets with cigarette packs filled with smaller finds, previously shown at Lulu but extended with findings from New York until April 30, 2019 — these seven joined by a diptych of two canvases by On Kawara.
Although the Date Paintings are often exhibited in groups and pairs, those of July 25 form a rare case of Kawara's finishing two on the same day, maybe because of the rain, maybe because that Sunday was so uneventful he had the time to do so. Either way, working with or against the clock, in their doubleness they do not express a preference, no choice between the one or the other, but an openness to more than the one (mis)understanding. Prefiguring the black-and-white-text dateline pieces Félix González-Torres would start making in the 80s (that invite us to relate so specifically), the two 25 Julys, in fact have more in common with the synchronicity and ambiguity of the clocks in Perfect Lovers that they antedate by two decades precisely.
The show is a reduced celebration, elegantly empty, but full of time: in the case of Agematsu the hours and minutes (and places) seep out of the titles that the list of works provides, 2019.04.03. PM 12:51 Tepito, Calle Florida y Rayon or 2019.04.01 PM 1:53-PM 2:20 La Merced Mercado Sonora; in that of Kawara what is painted itself sets the date: its content and subject matter.
In the pairing of the two artists, one alive one dead, what comes out unexpectedly is how the first works with what is given (a date, from datum, dare ‘to give’), the second from what he finds. But while, to draw a titular comparison, Gerhard Richter’s 18. Oktober 1977 or Danh Vo’s 08:03, 28.05, 2009 recall the significance of history painting and political events —functioning rather as warnings or mementos that have little to do with the everyday—, both Kawara and Agematsu succeed in steering the insignificant: Agematsu salvages, Kawara spares.
ls is not the irretrievable pastness of the present, but excitement of concentration. Where Kawara, taking the pain to paint, freezes time only to make it last, Agematsu picks up on what to others is of no importance, disposable, lost. His festive detritus, that is both an accusation against consumerism and an embrace of its ruins, comes without the need to break down and deconstruct or the theatricality of Daniel Spoerri's trap pictures. It is contemporary in the way the work of Isa Genzken is and looks past the present moment, not by picking at but by picking up.
Here, then, are two takes on the impersonal; 'found' objects and 'given' dates. They are works about nostalgia —even against it—, but not nostalgic in themselves. For one because it is impossible to be sentimental about junk (a proposal I hope the reader will accept); but also because in their seriality the date paintings bypass the concept and preclude subjective attachments, even if they always also function as a screen for projection. Time, the subject of Kawara's and Agematsu’s work, is easily idealized when interpreted as something private and one-dimensional: their dates, on the contrary, belong to everyone and do not allow for this. That is also where Xavier Aballí’s OK-XA Date Paintings (2015-), always made in a relationship to a date significant for their recipient, really differ from Kawara’s "Today" Series. Making them particular and personal, they take the irony of collectors ‘owning’ a date to the next level.
Made on July 25, 1971, when Kawara had nearly 2900 more Date Paintings to go, the early numbers 72 and 73 actually do not hark back, but look ahead, potentially without end. The poetically political garbage Agematsu collects is not unlike it: it also looks as if (some of) it will stay with us another million years.