Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hiroshi Sugimoto: Lake Superior @Pace/MacGill

JTF (just the facts): A total of 12 black and white photographs, framed in black wood and matted, and hung against grey and dark grey colored walls in the main rooms of the gallery. All of the photographs are gelatin silver prints mounted to board, made in either 1995 or 2003. Each mounted image is 20x24; no edition information was available. There is no photography allowed in the gallery, so the installation shots at right are via the Pace/MacGill website.

Comments/Context: Hiroshi Sugimoto's photographic seascapes have become so iconic that at this point, I'm ashamed to say that I think I take them a bit for granted. This isn't to say that I adore or admire them any less, it's just that my brain uses some kind of mental shorthand that assumes I've already absorbed most of what they have to offer, and thereby often skips over them in search of something else. In the past few years, Sugimoto's seascapes have been shown at monumental scale in New York gallery shows, and at that size, their largeness becomes enveloping and almost spiritual. In contrast, this show gathers together images taken of Lake Superior and displays them in the smaller size, forcing the viewer into an entirely different and much more intimate, one-on-one interaction.

The sequencing of this show is important to notice, as there is a careful progression along a spectrum of color and mood. The first image the visitor encounters when coming out of the elevators is an almost pure white on white picture (the best in the show, in my opinion), which is then followed around the wall by whites that become more foggy and unstable, and waves and undulations that become more noticeable. As the viewer passes into the adjoining room, the bisected images become more contrasty, the water darker, sometimes grey and soft, sometimes smooth, sometimes crisp and almost sharp against the featureless sky, ending with a single night seascape with its tonalities of light and dark reversed. Seen together at this size, the changing weather conditions generate forward motion through the gallery, and the subtle gradation enables a meditative flow of muted emotion.
Sugimoto's seascapes are a tremendous reminder of the power of pared down, photographic simplicity. His views of the water offer endless variations, combining both a cerebral quality of conceptual thinking and a deeply human sense of timeless, elemental purity. Even if you're sure you've seen them before, they undeniably merit a second (or third, or fourth) look.
Collector's POV: The photographs in this show are priced at $35000 each. Sugimoto's work is routinely available in the secondary markets, in various sizes and at various price points. Images of equivalent size (20x24) as those on display here (seascapes, as well as other subjects/projects) have generally been available at auction at prices ranging between $10000 and $90000.
Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
Hiroshi Sugimoto: Lake Superior
Through December 3rd

Pace/MacGill Gallery
32 East 57th Street
New York, NY 10022

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