I went to the Chiba City Museum of Art to see Hiroshi Sugimoto’s two part exhibition entitled “Past and Present in Three parts” and “Art and Leisure.” It was a compact but extraordinarily gorgeous exhibition, which takes in his works including his three great photographic masterpieces and the “toko-no-shiturae,” or artistic settings for a tea ceremony room alcove.
As a photographer, Sugimoto’s works are very conceptual. Generally speaking, photos reflect a moment, but he endeavors to show history or the flow of time. One of his masterpieces “seascape,” consisting of simply sea and sky, was created based on his idea, “Is it possible for us to see the same scenery that ancient people saw?”
His “theatre series,” consisting of the white screen and the inside of a movie theater shows the passage of time using time-lapse exposure. The white screens in his photos seem to show nothing but they are the accumulation of the light of 2-hour-movies. In a sense, we can see a 2-hour-movie in a moment. For Sugimoto, taking photos doesn’t mean just reflecting the real world. He shows us the time we’ve never seen before.
Before he started his career as a photographer, he was an antique art dealer in NYC. Still now, he is an art collector and with his expert eyes on Japanese art he carefully chose the combinations of hanging scrolls and artistic objects for a tea ceremony room alcove. The 27 combinations displayed in the “Art and Leisure” section are innovative because he matched, for example, an old Japanese hanging scroll and a portrait bust statue of Christ harmoniously.
Whenever I see his masterpieces, they remind me of the word “mitate.” It’s difficult to find an exact word in English, but it might be similar to “metaphor” or “replacing something in a different image.” Mitate is a very basic way of thinking in traditional Japanese arts, such as landscape design, noh play and pottery. Sugimoto’s mitate is always beyond my imagination and that’s why I’m strongly fascinated with his works.
photos: Chiba City Museum of Art
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