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Hiroshi Sugimoto

Portraits
March 05 - May 14, 2000



From March 5 until May 14, 2000 the Deutsche Guggenheim is presenting Sugimoto: Portraits, a new specially commissioned exhibition for its gallery on Unter den Linden. Hiroshi Sugimoto, born in Tokyo in 1948, occupies an exceptional position in the world of photography, combining poetic imagination and noble elegance with conceptual complexity.

The photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto left his native Japan in 1970 to study art in Los Angeles at a time when Minimalism and Conceptual Art - both of which informed his work - reigned. As his practice evolved, Sugimoto came to conceive of subjects of such conceptual depth that they have merited his attention throughout his rich career. Inspired by the systemic aspects of Minimal painting and sculpture, he explores his themes through a rigorous sense of seriality. Five significant photographic series dominate Sugimoto's career thus far: Theaters (begun in 1978), Dioramas and Wax Museums (begun in 1976), Seascapes (begun in 1980), Sanjusangendo, Hall of Thirty-Three Bays (created in 1995), and Architecture (begun in 1997).

In his new commission created specially for the Deutsche Guggenheim, Sugimoto has turned to the wax figures he first explored in his Dioramas series. Unlike his earlier depictions of dioramic displays found in natural history museums and tableaux of famous persons in wax museums, these images are life-size, black-and-white portraits of historical figures, such as Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and Voltaire, which are photographed against dramatically-lit, black backdrops. Working in a scale entirely new to his oeuvre, Sugimoto isolated the wax effigies from the staged vignettes in Madame Tussaud's London Waxworks, posed them in three-quarter length view, and lit them so as to create haunting Rembrandtesque portraits. His painterly renditions are lush with details and recall the various painting sources - such as Hans Holbein, Anthony van Dyck, and Jacques Louis David - from which the wax figures were originally drawn.

Sugimoto rekindles a dialogue that has existed since photography's invention: the relationship between painting and the medium of mechanical reproduction. His five-panel photograph of a wax effigy of Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper shot in a Japanese wax museum spans approximately 25 feet in length and is a dramatic depiction of its well-recognized source. To photograph a wax tableau of Johannes Vermeer's painting The Music Lesson in Madame Tussaud's Amsterdam museum, Sugimoto positioned the camera so that his tripod replaced Vermeer's easel in the mirror's reflection. Vermeer, known to use a camera obscura to paint his domestic scenes with verisimilitude, is here transformed into a photographer, and Sugimoto, into the painter.

The presentation at the Deutsche Guggenheim emulates the grandeur of a traditional portrait gallery, thus creating a dialogue with the established painting galleries found in the city's classical museums, and adding to the rich layers of meaning in Sugimoto's newest work. Sugimoto: Portraits continues the series of exhibitions commissioned for the gallery on Unter den Linden. This exhibition follows James Rosenquist's monumental trilogy of paintings and Andreas Slominski's installations; it is the first time that this series has focused on photography.

Curators of the exhibition are Nancy Spector, Curator of Contemporary Art, and Tracey Bashkoff, Assistant Curator at the Guggenheim Museum, New York.
A catalogue designed by Takaaki Matsumoto with reproductions of all the works in the commission will be on sale in German and English at a price of DM 59. The book will be available with six different covers and can also be purchased as a set. Along with an introductory text by Nancy Spector, the publication contains essays by Carol Armstrong, Norman Bryson and Thomas Kellein, as well as an interview with the artist by Tracey Bashkoff.

On Sunday, March 5, 2000, at 11.30 a.m., Tracey Bashkoff will be offering a special guided tour of the exhibition entitled "A Curatorial Eye." On Wednesday May 10, 2000 at 7.00 p.m., one of the catalogue's contributors, Dr. Thomas Kellein of the Kunsthalle Bielefeld, will give a talk on "Hiroshi Sugimoto: Enlightened Atheism."

Inspired by Hiroshi Sugimoto's Portraits, a black and white replica of the necklace that belonged to Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII, was created as Deutsche Guggenheim's Edition No. 10. Here, the series of reproductions recalls its starting point: the necklace as it was first recorded in a painting by Hans Holbein the Younger, then translated into wax at Madame Tussaud's, and transposed by Sugimoto into the form of a black and white photograph, is now reincarnated as a piece of jewellery to be worn. The exclusive edition is available from the MuseumShop in a signed and limited edition of 100 at a price of DM 690.

Press Conference: Friday, March 3, 2000, 11 a.m.


Images of the exhibition

are available online at www.photo-files.de/guggenheim in a 300 dpi quality.

Further information at

Manager: Svenja Gräfin von Reichenbach
Press: Sara Bernshausen
Phone: +49-30-202093-14
Fax: +49-30-202093-20
email: berlin.guggenheim@db.com
Internet: www.deutsche-guggenheim.de