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Exhibition: ‘Hiroshi Sugimoto. Revolution’ at Museum Brandhorst, Munich

Exhibition dates: 25th October 2012 – 10th February 10 2013

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“Water and air. So very commonplace are these substances, they hardly attract 
attention – and yet they vouchsafe our very existence.

The beginnings of life are shrouded in myth: Let there water and air. Living phenomena spontaneously generated from water and air in the presence of light, though that could just as easily suggest random coincidence as a Deity. Let’s just say that there happened to be a planet with water and air in our solar system, and moreover at precisely the right distance from the sun for the temperatures required to coax forth life. While hardly inconceivable that at least one such planet should exist in the vast reaches of universe, we search in vain for another similar example.

Mystery of mysteries, water and air are right there before us in the sea. Every time I view the sea, I feel a calming sense of security, as if visiting my ancestral home; I embark on a voyage of seeing.”

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Hiroshi Sugimoto

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I have always admired the work of Hiroshi Sugimoto, notably his visually poetic series Seascapes and Theaters. His large format photographs expose time through light in a single frame. Their deeply metaphysical and existential nature may be the ultimate distillation of the constructed form of the photographic landscape. “They are explorations of spiritual and physical boundary as much as an exploration of the phenomenology of the picture plane” (Anon. “Hiroshi Sugimoto – Seascapes,” on the C4 Contemporary Art website). Like the movie theater series (where he captures a whole movie on one single frame of film) the seascapes are about the luminosity of life, the enigmatic existence of body and earth imprinted onto film.

Unfortunately, you can only push an idea so far. Personally I feel this latest series of conceptual twiddles, Revolution (1990/ 2012, publicly displayed here for the first time) fall as flat as a tack. Sugimoto, in his use of the term “revolution”, refers to the “original meaning of the term in the sense of a “suspension” or “overturning” of previously accepted laws or practices through new insights or methods.” The reorientation of the referent – of the world, in the world – is supposed to dissipate the Romantic image of the night, unsettling the certainty of the truth of the photograph as a visual record of the world. The photographs’ verisimilitude is supposedly turned on its head, transformed into abstract configurations of light and space through the conceptualisation of the artist. No new narratives are created. In fact the photographs could almost be called post-narrative, essential compositions that emphasise the insular loneliness of modern man’s experiences. Or so the artist would like you to believe.

Perhaps they look better in the flesh, or better in a group; perhaps they have more “presence” in reality than they do in reproduction, for this self-styled “revolution” seems to be more a tinkering at the edges of an idea, not a fully realised body of inner work. This is a body of work in/evolution. Sugimoto’s legendary visualisation (his ability to transcend the photographic medium) which is used to create an iconic vision of a timeless state of consciousness, utterly fails him here. You only have to look at the two horizontal landscape photographs at the bottom of the posting to realise that something has not been (un)thought through with this work. A simple curve of the earth with attendant clouds and horizon line is all you need to suspend the ritual of photographic performance. Another lesson from Minor White might have been in order at the time…

Dr Marcus Bunyan from the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to the Museum Brandhorst for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Installation photograph of Hiroshi Sugimoto. Revolution at Museum Brandhorst, Munich, 2012
Photo: Haydar Koyupinar © 2012 Hiroshi Sugimoto

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Hiroshi Sugimoto
Revolution 001
1990
N. Atlantic Ocean, Newfoundland
Gelatin silver print
94 x 47 inches
© 2012 Hiroshi Sugimoto

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Hiroshi Sugimoto
Revolution 002
1990
N. Atlantic Ocean, Newfoundland
Gelatin silver print
94 x 47 inches
© 2012 Hiroshi Sugimoto

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Hiroshi Sugimoto
Revolution 003
1990
N. Atlantic Ocean, Newfoundland
Gelatin silver print
94 x 47 inches
© 2012 Hiroshi Sugimoto

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Hiroshi Sugimoto
Revolution 005
1990
Irish Sea, Isle of Man
Gelatin silver print
94 x 47 inches
© 2012 Hiroshi Sugimoto

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Hiroshi Sugimoto
Revolution 006
1990
Arctic Ocean, North Cape
Gelatin silver print
94 x 47 inches
© 2012 Hiroshi Sugimoto

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“Hiroshi Sugimoto is one of the best-known photographic artists of our time. His celebrated international reputation is based on his photography, although in recent years he has become engaged with other genres: architecture, furniture, objects, and fashion all play an increasingly important role in his work. It is primarily his photography however, that important museums from all over the world have collected and displayed.

Sugimoto’s unique accomplishments in his genre contradict the medium’s conventional tasks – to record reality as precisely as possible. In Sugimoto’s work, one is confronted with the formal reduction of conceptual images, in which he addresses fundamental questions of space and time, past and present, art and science, imagination and reality. “I was concerned,” noted the artist in 2002, “with revealing an ancient stage of human memory through the medium of photography. Whether it is individual memory or the cultural memory of mankind itself, my work is about returning to the past and remembering where we came from and how we came about.” His pictures, which leave a lasting impression through their beauty and their auratic effect, interweave Japanese traditions with Western ideas. This East-West dialogue remains characteristic of his work today, which is captivating in its exceptional craftsmanship and strong aesthetic presence, and can exercise an almost magical effect on viewers.

Sugimoto has given this suite of works – publicly displayed here for the first time – the title Revolution, but he reveals a radically different understanding of the term in the fifteen large-format works. It is not political or social unrest to which Sugimoto alludes, but rather to the original meaning of the term in the sense of a “suspension” or “overturning” of previously accepted laws or practices through new insights or methods.
 From a technical perspective, the nature of the work is undeniably photographic. But in terms of how they are perceived and understood, these are pictures that would be more readily ascribed to a painterly or conceptual sphere. 
This transgression of medium is characteristic of Sugimoto’s approach, and also applies to Seascapes, the largest distinct corpus of works in his oeuvre. For over thirty years Sugimoto has depicted the sea, always in the same, archetypal way. These works deal with difference within the apparently identical, with morphological visualization, and an iconic vision of a timeless state of consciousness. Dioramas, Theaters, Chambers of Horrors, Portraits, Architecture, Conceptual Forms, etc. are without doubt very important groups of work, but Seascapes composes the broad and consistent foundation upon which all of the artist’s other series are based.

The point of departure for the fifteen works entitled Revolution is a nocturnal seascape. A 90° clockwise rotation turns the horizons into vertical lines, dissipating the Romantic image of the night. Without changing the pictures’ material substance or subject, any obvious connotations are masked, their certainties denied by the transformation. At the same time, highly original abstract configurations emerge in their place. But it is finally the presence of the aesthetic which Sugimoto so forcefully brings to light in his new work. The process derives from conventional puzzles, but reveals in this case no new narrative moments, leading instead to hermetic compositions reminiscent of the work of American painters such as Barnett Newman.”

Text from the Museum Brandhorst website

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Hiroshi Sugimoto
Revolution 008
1990
Caribbean Sea, Yucatan
Gelatin silver print
94 x 47 inches
© 2012 Hiroshi Sugimoto

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Hiroshi Sugimoto
Revolution 009
1990
Caribbean Sea, Yucatan
Gelatin silver print
94 x 47 inches
© 2012 Hiroshi Sugimoto

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Hiroshi Sugimoto
Revolution 011
1990
Red Sea, Safaga
Gelatin silver print
94 x 47 inches
© 2012 Hiroshi Sugimoto

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Hiroshi Sugimoto
Revolution 012
1990
East China Sea, Amakusa
Gelatin silver print
94 x 47 inches
© 2012 Hiroshi Sugimoto

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Hiroshi Sugimoto
Revolution 013
1990
N. Pacific Ocean, Ohkurosaki
Gelatin silver print
94 x 47 inches
© 2012 Hiroshi Sugimoto

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Hiroshi Sugimoto
Landscape 004
1989
Gelatin silver print
47 x 83 inches
© 2012 Hiroshi Sugimoto

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Hiroshi Sugimoto
Landscape 005
1989
Gelatin silver print
47 x 83 inches
© 2012 Hiroshi Sugimoto

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Museum Brandhorst
cnr of Theresienstrasse and Türkenstrasse
Munich

Opening hours:
Daily except Monday 10.00 – 18.00
Thursday 10.00 – 20.00

Museum Brandhorst website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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