Critics’ Picks

View of “Hiroshi Sugimoto,” 2012.

View of “Hiroshi Sugimoto,” 2012.


Hiroshi Sugimoto

Pace Gallery, Beijing
798 Art District, No.2 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District
May 12–July 7, 2012

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s latest exhibition at Pace Beijing is a mini-retrospective of sorts, introducing mainland audiences to the renowned photographer with highlights from six representative series of his works. Sugimoto’s images go long on a highly precise and stylized form derived from different techniques, resulting in large-format works whose outsize scope and vision fills the walls of Pace Beijing’s mammoth Bauhaus-inspired space.

The show oscillates between Sugimoto’s interest in capturing the trappings of the theatrical (as in his diorama, theater, and wax-figure portrait series), and in creating visualizations of the primordial, as in his lightning field, “Conceptual Forms,” and seascapes series. The diorama photographs focus on natural history displays without their frames, creating false images of breathtaking credibility: taxidermied Alaskan wolves on the hunt in snowy plains; manatees wallowing in sparkling waters; languid Permian lepidosaurs roaming steamy marshlands; our Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon forebears foraging in ancient natural landscapes. Sugimoto’s lens has a knack for removing the grotesque but preserving the narrative in these kitsch displays, as with “Henry VIII and His Six Wives,” 1999, portraits of the eponymous historical figures as imagined by the sculptors of the Madame Tussauds wax museum.

Sugimoto’s lightning-field images register the likeness of energy itself through negatives exposed to a charge. “Conceptual Forms” presents a similar visualization of the abstract—in this case mathematical models of concepts like the onduloid and Dini’s surface, photographed in squid-ink-black gelatin silver prints. But it is Sugimoto’s classic theater and seascape series that are most open to the philosophical potential of photography. Visiting all manner of cinemas, Sugimoto fixed open his camera’s aperture at the start of a movie, clicking the shutter off only at its end, capturing a film’s entirety in a single frame. The seascapes series—large-format photographs of the sea that are minimal to the point of abstraction—creates a metaphysics out of the elemental: water, air, existence.