2017 Venice Biennale News

On Kawara’s Epic ‘One Million Years’ Reading Will Take Place During Venice Biennale, Volunteers Needed

A performance still of the reading at David Zwirner in New York in 2009.DAVID ZWIRNER

A performance of the work at David Zwirner gallery in New York in 2009.


The opening of the Venice Biennale is only a little more than a month away, and the lineup of shows timed to coincide with it is looking increasingly juicy. The latest to be confirmed for the grand affair is a staging of On Kawara’s storied One Million Years (Reading) performance, which involves a pair of people reading from a two-volume book by the late artist that lists, in chronological order, one million years into the future and one million years into the past. The project, housed at the Oratorio di San Ludovico, is being organized by Ikon Gallery of Birmingham, England, and curated by Jonathan Watkins, the museum’s director.

One Million Years involves a man and a woman reading alternate years from hulking books. Since reading two million numbers requires a fair amount of work, Ikon is currently looking to sign up volunteers who will be in Venice between May 9 and July 30, the dates of the show. You can reach out to Elisa Genna at volunteerskawara@gmail.com to book a 60- or 120-minute session. My recommendation: go for it! I did a shift at the 2009 presentation of the work at David Zwirner in New York, and found the experience meditative, surprisingly difficult, and quite melancholy.

Here are some more details on the presentation from Ikon:

The venue for this manifestation of One Million Years (Reading), the Oratorio di San Ludovico, Dorsoduro, could not be more suitable, being an ancient religious building with wonderful acoustics designed for the utterance of human voice. The matter-of-factness of the reading is foiled there by the presence of an altarpiece, consecrated and symbolic of eternal life.

In this vein, Venice itself could not be more fitting as a location for the work. Its fragility and beauty, caught between the sea and sky, is often associated with the transience of human life.

Kawara is also figuring in this summer’s edition of Skulptur Projekte Münster in a rather beautiful, low-key way. “Date Paintings” by the artist have been installed at a kindergarten in the city as part of a series of displays that the artist initiated during his life under the title Pure Consciousness. The paintings are viewable only when class is not in session.

© 2019 ARTnews Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved. ARTnews® is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.