Martha Rosler, Red Stripe Kitchen

Martha Rosler, Red Stripe Kitchen, from the series House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, c. 1967-72, photomontage, Art Institute of Chicago, through prior gift of Adeline Yates; exhibition copy provided by Mitchell‑Innes & Nash, New York, © Martha Rosler; Image courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York

Curator Melissa Ho reflects on what drew her to the subject matter for her upcoming exhibition exploring how American artists responded to the turbulence of the Vietnam War. 

When I first encountered On Kawara’sTitle nearly ten years ago, I had never seen a photograph of the painting or heard of its existence. The work hung by itself, highlighted on an oversized wall at the entrance to the National Gallery of Art’s display of modern and contemporary art. Title consists of three canvases, each a field of deep magenta punctuated by neatly lettered white text and—upon close inspection—tiny adhesive stars, one adorning each corner. Taken in at a glance, the words ONE THING / 1965 / VIET-NAM are immediately striking.

Created the year after Kawara settled in New York, Title was a breakthrough for the Japanese-born artist. It marked a turning point in his practice, initiating an engagement with time as subject matter that he pursued for the rest of his life. Following the triptych, Kawara embarked on his Today series of date paintings; he completed his last, of hundreds, in 2013. Each of these works records the date of its making on a monochromatic ground of gray, red, or blue and is free of overt emotional or topical content. The carefully rendered works refer again and again to “today,” conveying the shape and experience of time, how it cycles and accumulates, more than imparting the particulars of any historical moment.