Hiroshi Sugimoto: 7 Days / 7 Nights
I’ve been to the Hiroshi Sugimoto show at the Gagosian 21st street gallery twice this week. It is by far the most impressive presentation of work I’ve seen since the Sophie Calle show Take Care of Yourself. I call back to that because both of them used tremendously large spaces & transformed the space into a kind of ether, which the aesthetics experience occurs. In both of them the movement between pieces is an essential aspect of the art & the process is not serial as much as redirectional.
The Sugimoto show is two huge rooms with seven enormous photographs of seascapes in each room. Some of the seascapes are so blurred & faint that the photograph almost looks like a darkroom failure. This is definitely the kind of art that I could imagine some anti-intellectual movie lampooning – like a pretentious douchebag like me goes on & on about how visceral & intense the piece is & then the camera pulls back to reveal a nearly empty canvas.
But it is visceral & intense! The photographs are masterfully printed, so that as you approach what at first seems to be a Rothko-esque blur ripples & waves of the sea’s surface reveal themselves. And they continue to reveal themselves as you get closer & then at some point you come in so close that the ripples become pure texture. Nearly edible or wooly. And then inevitably I start thinking of Richter & other such texture fetishists. But Sugimoto’s choice of the primal set of sky & water reinvents my thinking about these texturists. Like Michael Earl Craig says in the latest issue of Octopus:
To those people who are always talking about “surrealism”
can I suggest opening your fucking eyes?
If you do this, you will see mothballs. And a green nightgown.
The things we think of as the realm of art are never only art. There is no art for art’s sake, there is only the reinvention of seeing & thinking. Sugimoto is such a fascinating artist because he gets to this place that is highly conceptual through an amazing craft. The quality of the photographic prints in themselves are a marvel. It might sound weird to say, but the grey tones he gets in his blurry, foggy skies are the most sumptuous, enveloping greys you may ever see. The details in the surface of the seas belie a strenuous darkroom work ethic & are breathtaking
In a brief interview on Kultureflash Sugimoto talks a bit about his mindset:
SS:There is a quality of painting to your work. In that it's slow, it requires you to pay attention to texture and surface. The image is in relation to surface while very often most photography is about just image.
HS: Well, I just had lunch with Howard Hodgkin in his studio, I found it very interesting how the painter spends time... It's the same principle for me, I imagine my vision then try to make it happen just like painting. I don't go out with my camera looking for some image, I already have my vision first. The movie theatres for example, the vision was there already. The reality is there, but how to make it like my reality.
And when you walk into the second room, that’s when the religious expanse of the first spacious room is coupled. It’s a bit of a trick, so I don’t want to talk about it too much, but it’s a trick that made me feel more reaction than I had since seeing the Rothko show.
So if you have a few spare tens of millions hanging around—I don’t know much about economics but I hear things are going really well—feel free to buy me the full set of these photographs. I think they’d look good in my apartment, right next to my plastic femur.