I’m inviting the spirits into my photography. It’s an act of God.
Light is the origin of all being. Light gives, with each moment, new form to being and new interrelationships to things...
Christie's is delighted to present Spotlight: Hiroshi Sugimoto, featuring stunning examples of the artist’s work from a decades-long dedication to the art and craft of photography. Presenting a panoramic overview of the artist's career, lots 120–134 feature select pieces from his major bodies of work, including Seascapes, Dioramas, Theaters, Sea of Buddhas, Architecture, Colors of Shadow and Portraits.
Born in Tokyo, Japan, Sugimoto moved to Los Angeles in 1970 to study photography at the Art Center College of Design, and soon thereafter, relocated to New York. Since then, the artist’s philosophical curiosities, as manifested in his various series, are focused on the nature of time. Present time, individual memories, the ancient past, and concerns about the future all find their way into the work, as does the question of the duration of time, as recorded by photography. Under Sugimoto’s lens, photography is no longer connoted with the quick satisfaction of the snapshot or the surreal magic of the decisive moment. Rather, his photographs subvert the instantaneous in favor of the infinite and the immeasurable, and embodying the very notion of timelessness.
His Architecture series, of which Church of the Light—Tadao Ando (lot 120), Eiffel Tower (lot 121), and Brooklyn Bridge (lot 130) are examples, began in 1996, when the artist was commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago to capture the essence of universally acclaimed buildings. By purposely defocusing the lens and thereby blurring the specific features of the buildings, Sugimoto distilled each structure to its core form in both light and shadow, highlighting the original vision of the architect. The Church of the Light by Tadao Ando in Osaka is an architectural marvel, and Sugimoto’s images captures the brilliance in which light defines the purpose of Ando’s building, as a house of worship. The composition is stark and sublime, akin to a Man Ray Rayograph in its ability to draw with light.
The Portrait series, begun in the 1990s, presents photographs of lifesize wax figurines of important figures from the history of politics, religion, aristocracy and popular culture found at various wax museums around the world, including most famously Madame Tussaud. The artist placed the figures in front of a stark black background and carefully lit each, bringing a sense of immediacy to the subjects. As such, Princess Diana, as seen in lot 122, seems to have been captured with a sideways glance and a tender smile; Winston Churchill, as seen in lot 127, appears as if en route to greet the photographer. In doing so, Sugimoto presents great historical figures, many from before the invention of photography, in intimate, realistic photographic portraits.
Sugimoto’s broad interests in the craft underlying a wide variety of traditional arts is reflected in his own artistic practice. He uses a large format view camera with 8 x 10 inch black-and-white film, and works in a traditional wet-darkroom making perfect print enlargements on double weight gelatin silver paper.
One of the more important measures of an artist’s career and their cultural relevance is the caliber and number of public institutions that hold their work. In the case of Sugimoto, the list is both long and impressive, and includes the permanent collections of the Tate Museum in London, The Metropolitan Museum and The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and The Getty Museum, Los Angeles, to name but a very few. In 2006, a mid-career retrospective was organized by the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. and the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo During the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale, Sugimoto unveiled his Glass Tea House, called Mondrian, at Le Stanze del Vetro on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore.
Sugimoto is the recipient a number of prestigious awards. Among those are the Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography, in 2001, and the Praemium Imperiale from the Japan Arts Association, the most highly-respected award bestowed upon a living artist in Japan, in 2009.