Thursday, February 8, 2007

Sugimoto's "Good, Better, Best"

Hiroshi Sugimoto's talk at Guggenheim last wednesday, as part of series titled "Good, Better, Best: Perspective on Connoisseurship" where artists share their perspective on judging art and securing themselves through self-promotion titling their work the best, of course.
Sugimoto was a most humorously witty, small and humble man with a touch of broken english, sharing his working process and the various photographic series he's created over the years. A documentary video was included showing his studio, his medium, and ongoing projects all over the world.
From the beginning of the lecture he emphasizes that there is no correct standard to judging art, that we may think it has to do with art history, curators, or the art market but in the end there is no appropriate scale that evenly and fairly judges art.
From there he told the lifeline of his art making history, his interest in time and space consciousness, using photography to measure and observe (which reminded me of maholy-nagy and josef albers except working in different mediums, a future paper topic perhaps).
He deals mostly in black and white photography and he does this because "color is too simple and easy" and how the human eye must be trained to see in black and white.
Here are some images that exemplify his interest in 2 tones, time exposure, and space awareness:

image from hirshhorn website

Sugimoto’s seascapes transpire through time, literally through camera lens exposure, which can last for hours. The emphasis on the crisp horizon line, of 2 polarizing elements equally dividing the picture plane creates a ethereal union, a peaceful junction of opposite spaces joined to create a beautiful abstracted view on nature.

image from hirshhorn wesbite

Sugimoto’s time lapsed photographs of theaters share the same interest in space and time as the artist opens the shutter for the entire length of a film and produce the finished image which displays a starkly blank white screen. This void is coincided with the emptiness of the theater, and the over-decorated walls which creates a distance that is objective and solitary. The viewer is observes the empty theater with an empty screen and is left to wonder how to go about interpreting such contemplated seclusion.

image from hirshhorn website

Sugimoto’s early series on panoramas of the Museum of Natural History was created out of curiosity and as a reaction to what he thought was “weird, interesting, and wrong”. A staged natural environment pretending to be real is photographed and then further deceives the viewer to think it’s actually real, more convincing than actually standing behind the glass pane at the museum.

image from hirshhorn website

In the portraits from Madame Tussauds museum in London, Sugimoto recreates a non-existing presence of old world figures and followed technical painting details of portrait painters of the day. The artist mentioned he will only take a portrait of you if you are dead and made into a wax figure. Hilarious.
Currently Sugimoto is working on a series where he creates the negative print of an old bought paper print. A leaf on paper work he bought that originated from late 19th century or so is then photographed to reveal it’s negative appeal. He’s proud to reiterate that this is the first time in history that these prints have been manipulated on and reworked.

Overall the lecture he gave at Guggenheim was educational, an overview coming from the artist himself, which was enlightening seeing how it’s easy to misinterpret an artist’s intention.

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