Artforum and Gay City: Hiroshi Sugimoto


Sonnabend Gallery, New York

In this exhibition of black-and-white photographs, Hiroshi Sugimoto defamiliarizes canonical works of modern architecture. ...

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Another version of this review appeared in Gay City News:

"Stripping Context to Find Meaning: Funerals for iconic structures revere their lives"

Sometimes the art. Sometimes the buildings.

In his aptly titled photographic exhibition at Sonnabend Gallery in Chelsea, Hiroshi Sugimoto explores life in our world community by revealing architectural monuments as objects divorced from their presumed social relevance. A blurred lens and odd camera angles reduce such icons as the Eiffel Tower and the Brooklyn Bridge to relics of a world mysterious and misunderstood. Through this distancing perspective, Sugimoto suggests that our comprehension of our own Earth is illusory; in fact, by being within the moment, our perspective is as shadowy and incomplete as if we were in another time, looking back.

Sugimoto’s black and white images, however, are not merely indicative of an inability to know ourselves. Rather, the lushness of Sugimoto’s black and white (subtle reds and greens abound) suggests the complexity of fine wine; to be tasted and known, but only for an instant.

As much as Sugimoto renders architectural statements like the Guggenheim Bilbao into world wonders that defy present-day architectural contextualization, so too does he forbid himself any participation in present-day notions of art. His lens gives the impression that it is both considered and entirely happenstance. The photos are themselves “great” monuments, but also just snapshots. The lack of human beings in the works emphasizes not only the differences of architecture across time and tradition, but an ineluctable sameness. Buildings, like people, all stand under the same sky, in the same wind.

No woes, no joys, no politics: Sugimoto’s ever-present reverence is for the life within the building, indeed within the body. Sugimoto’s photographs represent a kind of funeral for each of the buildings they capture, and by this outlook, we can appreciate our own buildings, and cultures, and lives, in a way that usually eludes us.

A young woman I knew once asked an old country doctor what it means to die. And he answered, “It means you lived.”