The History of History, by Hiroshi Sugimoto at the Japan Society Gallery (Sept 23- Feb19th) It travels to the Smithsonian Institution next month. It's been described as "a unique investigation into the experience of time & history from a perspective of internationally acclaimed artist Hiroshi Sugimoto."
As an ICP Focus event, I attended a private viewing of this Sugimoto show last week. This was a joint event, with the MOMA and Guggenheim Contemporary Groups.. Sadly, this crowd was
scary not my thing! Unlike most ICP events, which tend to be fun and very casual, this crowd was filled with that UES attitude, little black-dress wearing, bland snappy chattering, socialite type. Needless to say.. I was under dressed out of my element. What I found particularly funny, was how few people were looking at the art show. Most were foolishly feeding standing around the sushi bar in the buildings lobby. Lucky for me, I thought, I've got the gallery tour almost entirely to myself. Well, as it turns out, I was not so lucky! The show was a dud!
I've long been a fan of Sugimoto's very subtle, minimalist photography. His recent architecture series, his time-laps theaters, and tranquil seascapes shots are magical. They have an austerity few photographers have been able to capture. Unfortunately, this show is mostly filled with his new assemblages, taken from his personal collection of Fossils, East Asian Art and other ancient objects. To me, these new works felt very clumsy and manipulated. Hiroshi Sugimoto is a great photographer, but this show has only 7 large photographs. And while bigger is not always better for most photographers, Sugimoto photo's are very subtle (see image #1 Carribean Sea). So the large prints give Sugimoto's work power, as your eye can explore the wonderful details. It's disappointing, and a lost opportunity not to see many of them in this show.
There was only one theater photo, which was ignored in the basement, poorly lit, and next to the coat check (not even in the gallery space!). Are they kidding? While, the works that actually made it into the gallery, I found completely forced and contrived. Sugimoto's greatest work, focuses our attention to the essence of time, nature and life. Here they are jammed into new work, he's taken many ancient Japanese artifacts, and forced them together unsuccessfully with modern materials and images. It's anything but subtle. I found myself almost laughing at these contraptions. It was very heavy handed.
For example.. one new very large prominent work consisted of : a large 7ft phallic stone rod from the Jomon Period, ca. 10,000-300 BCE, which he's set upon a 1950's Shinny Hospital gurney. It has the ever so brilliant title of "Testament of a Penis" OK!
Size Queens! Need I say more?
stupid "large awkward" work.. was positioned in front of 3 large wonderful Seascapes, possibly Sugimoto's most thoughtful contemplative photographs. This contrast was as artfully coordinated as last years New Orleans flood control team! Even the tour guide had a hard time not blushing, rationalizing explaining this piece! What was he thinking??
Another example (see photo #2), was a bit better. And is on the cover of the exhibition's book. The item is named "Time's Arrow, 1987" Here Hiroshi Sugimoto has taken a seascape, and included it into a reliquary bronze fragment from the Kamakure period, 13th century. I couldn't help but think, what was in that space originally? And why did he ruin an artifact from the 13th century for this silly self serving show!
Well.. this was probably the best of the new works in the show. I think Sugimoto should probably stick to photography, and leave ancient artifacts alone.. for history's sake!
Once I saw this, I now knew why everyone from the Contemporaries were huddled around the free Sushi and Saki bar! At least they had wonderful George Nakashima furniture in the lobby to admire, pretty people to smile at, cold drinks, and fresh sushi! Maybe those UES attitude, little black-dress wearing, bland snappy chattering, socialite type were not so foolish after all!
The Show Closes on February 19th. I won't miss this one!