San Francisco, April 9, 2007—The extraordinary 30-year career of photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto (b. 1948, Japan) is celebrated in this retrospective of 120 luminous photographs, made from 1976 to the present. This presentation constitutes the first major survey of Sugimoto’s oeuvre and includes such iconic works as Chrysler Building, 1997, and Ligurian Sea, Frumura, 1993.
One of Japan’s most important contemporary artists, Sugimoto is known for his ongoing, multiple series of hauntingly beautiful black-and-white photographs, which explore the themes of time, memory, dreams, and natural histories. Working with a large-format camera, his glowing images range from the starkly minimal to the richly detailed, and are often suffused with expanses of light and space.
Hiroshi Sugimoto is co-organized by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., and the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo. It is curated by Kerry Brougher, Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the Hirshhorn Museum, and David Elliot, former Director of the Mori Art Museum. The four-venue international tour, which began at the Mori Art Museum, also included The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, where the exhibition was on view prior to the showing in San Francisco. The exhibition includes examples of the series that Sugimoto began in the mid-1970s, Dioramas and Movie Theaters, which are views of natural history displays and the screens and architecture of cinemas, as well as images from Seascapes and Portraits, started in the 1980s and 1990s, respectively.
The seven photographs in Portraits include images that were taken in Madame Tussaud’s wax museum in London of wax models of Henry VIII and his six wives. Sugimoto painstakingly “remade” them to look like the original paintings from which they were modeled by isolating them from their surroundings in the wax gallery and employing lighting techniques similar to those that the painters might have used. Another photograph, The Music Lesson (1999) further elaborates on the connection between painting and photography. It depicts a wax re-creation of Johannes Vermeer’s painting The Virginal with a Gentleman (The Music Lesson), 1662–1664, which was thought to have been created with the aid of a camera obscura.
Nine works from Sugimoto’s more recent Architecture series are also featured. These blurred, almost dream-like images conjure the moment when an architect’s inspiration begins to coalesce into a vision. In a special tribute to the architects of the new de Young Museum, Sugimoto has included for the San Francisco showing Signal Box–Herzog & de Meuron (1998), a photograph of the copper-clad building in Basel, Switzerland that was a model for the de Young.
The show also presents Sea of Buddha, 1995, which is comprised of 48 photographs of 1001 Buddhist sculptures, taken in the 12th-century Sanjusangen-do temple in Kyoto. These images were made under conditions that recreated the splendor of the original Heian period installation, but the serial repetition of the sculptures reminded Sugimoto of certain qualities of 20th-century art, and his photographs link them to aesthetic techniques of 1970s minimalism. Like Sea of Buddha, the series Conceptual Forms, which was begun in 2004, encapsulates the artist’s interest in tangible models as points of entry into spiritual theoretical concepts. The eight photographs in the Conceptual Forms series, Mechanical Forms, 2004 and the three-dimensional piece La Boile en Valise (The Wooden Box), 2004, also pay homage to the influence of Marcel Duchamp on Sugimoto. “Art resides even in things with no artistic intentions,” he has said of these works.
Working for the most part with black-and-white film, Sugimoto has created images of exceptional formal beauty and surface quality that stimulate both intellect and vision and are sometimes imbued with a mysterious and somewhat unsettling ambiguity. These signal images often capture what is elusive to sight—the horizon line between the sky and sea at night, the sum total of light projected during a feature-length film, or the physical contours of the principle represented by a mathematical equation. His work also addresses the human impulse to represent reality, a drive that has inspired artists throughout history and is embodied by the genesis of photography itself.
Exhibition Installation at de Young Specially Designed by Sugimoto
Hiroshi Sugimoto has designed each of the four museum installations in the tour of his retrospective. His experiences working with the architectural challenges of curved walls at the signature Bunshaft-designed Hirshhorn Museum inspired his decision to create a curved wall for the installation of ten Seacapes photographs at the de Young Museum. They will be shown in a dramatic space lit by special frame projectors that create window-like vistas onto a seemingly endless sea.
Born in Tokyo in 1948, Sugimoto left Japan in 1970 after graduating from Rikkyo University with a degree in economics. He traveled throughout the Soviet Union and Europe and then moved to Los Angeles, where he studied photography at Art Center College of Design. He moved to New York in 1974 and currently divides his time between New York and Tokyo. Sugimoto’s work has been exhibited internationally in group and solo shows. He was the recipient of the Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography in 2001 and the Mainichi Art Prize in 1988.
Sugimoto Exhibitions also on View at Asian Art Museum in Fall, 2007
In October, two additional exhibitions that showcase the work of Mr. Sugimoto will be on view at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. Hiroshi Sugimoto: History of History, juxtaposes the artist’s exquisitely minimalist works with his own collection of fossils, artworks and religious artifacts ranging from the prehistoric to the 15th century. The result is an extended exploration of time, life and spirituality.
Stylized Sculpture: Contemporary Japanese Fashion from the Kyoto Costume Institute, features more than 20 original works of Japanese fashion dating from 1983 and 2007 by five leading designers including Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto, and Issey Miyake. In preparation for this exhibition, Sugimoto has created a new series of black-and-white photographs that approach contemporary Japanese fashion as purely sculptural forms. A selection of the photographs will be debuted in the exhibition together with the actual garments they depict. Information: asianart.org.
Credit and Organization
Hiroshi Sugimoto is co-organized by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., and the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo.
Venues for Hiroshi Sugimoto
Prior to arriving at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, Hiroshi Sugimoto was on view at the Mori Museum, Tokyo, from September 19, 2005 through January 9, 2006; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., from February 16 through May 14, 2006; and The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth from September 17, 2006 through January 21, 2007.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue titled Hiroshi Sugimoto. Published by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. and the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, in association with Hatje Cantz Publishers. Black-and- white and color illustrations, 338 pages; hardcover $96; paperbound, $35. Available in the Museum Stores.
About the new de Young
Founded in 1895 in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, the de Young Museum has been an integral part of the cultural fabric of the city and a cherished destination for millions of residents and visitors to the region for over 100 years. The new de Young, which was designed by Herzog & de Meuron and opened in 2005, provides San Francisco with a landmark art museum to showcase the institution’s significant collections of American art from the 17th through the 21st centuries; and art from Central and South America and the Pacific and Africa, as well as an important and diverse collection of textiles.
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Image: Hiroshi Sugimoto, Union City Drive-In, Union City (1993). Gelatin Silver Print. Edition 21/25. Private collection, courtesy of the artist