Oct 26–Dec 22, 2023
An exhibition presents folding screens and calligraphic works made with photographic materials.
Oct 26–Dec 22, 2023
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.
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.
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.
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.