On Kawara and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Juxtaposed 

On Kawara – Silence. February 6 – May 3, 2015.

On Kawara’s first retrospective, held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, delivers to the viewer the dedication and consistency that Kawara had for his works since 1966.  For a conceptual legend like On Kawara, who embodied conceptualism, Guggenheim is a fitting match for the scale and depth of his body of work.  The exhibit showcases many of his series, such as Today, One Million Years, and Title.  The exhibit makes it clear that the longest-running series is Today, by having the date paintings spread across the exhibit unlike the other series, which are grouped by individual series between the date paintings.  No one series overshadows the rest – every one of them are well-balanced. 

The greatest strength of the exhibit is the linear nature of the exhibit.  The beginning (bottom floor, beginning of spiral) and end of the exhibit (top floor, end of spiral) created by the spiraling corridor of the architecture makes it easy for the curator to organize the art from old to new, which also makes it easier for the viewers to connect the pieces chronologically.  For Kawara, this linear viewing order not only makes the viewing experience more sensible for viewers but also contributes to the conceptual nature of his time-dependent art.  From a conceptual standpoint, the spiraling tower of Guggenheim creates an interesting juxtaposition against the linearity of Kawara’s works. 

However, the exhibit is marred by one mistake – despite its linear nature, there is no clear end to the exhibit.  Once viewers reach the end of the exhibit corridor, they are forced to turn around and walk back down, which breaks the immersion.  There should have been a clear signifier at the end of the exhibit such as an elevator leading viewers back down to the lobby.  Last year’s Zero exhibit executed this very well by leading the viewers to a hall of installation pieces as the grand finale, after which viewers will ride the elevator back down to the lobby.  While not a deal breaker for the scope of Kawara’s conceptual art, the abrupt end to the exhibit creates a distraction to otherwise exceptional exhibition.