Fraenkel Gallery: Hiroshi Sugimoto

Hiroshi Sugimoto

Oct 26–Dec 22, 2023

An exhibition presents folding screens and calligraphic works made with photographic materials.

Color image of a folding screen with an image of a shore with large rock formations mounted onto the screen
Tateiwa, 2022pigment print on Japanese rice paper, mounted to folding screen, 71-1/4 x 279 inches (overall)INQUIRE


Oct 26–Dec 22, 2023

Press release

More About:
Hiroshi Sugimoto

Fraenkel Gallery is pleased to present the U.S. debut of two important new bodies of work by Hiroshi Sugimoto. In both series, the artist incorporates photographic techniques and materials into classical Japanese art forms, producing works that draw from the country’s spiritual history. Two immense folding screens, known as byobu, feature photographs of Japanese landmarks of sacred significance, delicately printed onto rice paper. The graphically striking series Brush Impression presents cameraless, one-of-a-kind calligraphic photographs made by painting Japanese characters onto light sensitive paper using photographic chemicals. Sugimoto’s ever-evolving artistic career has spanned nearly five decades, and this exhibition will be his sixteenth with the gallery since 1991. Concurrently, the Hayward Gallery in London will present a major retrospective of the artist’s work, on view from October 11, 2023, until January 7, 2024.

Color image of a large folding screen with color photograph of Wisterias in the courtyard of a temple
Wisteria of Kasuga Grand Shrine, 2022pigment print on Japanese rice paper, mounted to folding screen, 79 x 204 x 16-1/2 inches (installed) [200.7 x 518.2 x 41.9 cm], edition of 3INQUIRE

Two large folding screens anchor the exhibition. Representing revered locations, these works feature photographic pigment prints made on traditional Japanese Washi paper. An eight-paneled screen, nearly 24 feet long, depicts a view of Tateiwa Rock, a volcanic formation in Kyoto Prefecture that has featured in folkloric legend. An 18-foot, six-paneled screen depicts wisteria vines in bloom at the Kasuga-Taisha Shinto shrine in the ancient city of Nara, where the exhibition Hiroshi Sugimoto – The Descent of the Kasuga Spirit, curated by Sugimoto, took place earlier this year. This screen was included in the exhibition, which paired Shinto and Buddhist antiques, some from the artist’s personal collection, alongside contemporary artworks.

Color photograph of impressions made on print with brush strokes framed in dark metal frame
Brush Impression 0831 (Fire), 2023gelatin silver print, 23-3/4 x 19-3/4 inches (framed) [60.3 x 50.2 cm], uniqueINQUIRE

In Brush Impression, Sugimoto creates kanji, the form of Japanese language based on Chinese pictograms, and hiragana, phonetic characters used in Japanese. Rather than using ink, Sugimoto paints with darkroom chemicals on silver gelatin paper to produce black and white or subtlety warm-toned works, which range in size up to nearly 40 by 30 inches. The study of calligraphy has long been an interest of Sugimoto’s—each unique piece records the movement of his large brush across the surface of the paper, producing gestural shapes as well as splashes, bubbles, and traces of bristles. The kanji characters he selects represent words for elemental forces such as fire and water, and the meaning of each word is heightened and reinforced by the expressive qualities of each piece. 


A color image of a framed artwork depicting white expressive brush strokes painted on a black background

Hiroshi Sugimoto
Brush Impression

A woman stands in a gallery looking at a wall of framed photographs depicting calligraphic marks
Iroha song, 202348 gelatin silver prints, 79 x 285 inches (overall installed) [199.4 x 720.1 cm], unique

An orange glow suffuses Brush Impression 0810 (Moon), suggesting the rich color of a blood moon, while erratic splatters and drips surround the character for madness. Brush Impression (IROHA Song), a set of 48 smaller works written in hiragana, transcribes an eleventh century Japanese poem. Famous in part for its pangramic inclusion of each symbol that makes up this form of the language, the poem has served as a sort of alphabet.

Color photograph of impressions made on print with brush strokes framed in dark metal frame
Iroha song, 2023 [detail]gelatin silver print, 19-3/4 x 23-3/4 inches (framed) [50.2 x 60.3 cm], unique