Media only: James Gordon, 202.633.0520; Rebecca Fahy, 202.633.0521; Howard Kaplan, 202.633.0435
Public only: 202.633.1000
Exhibition dates: April 1–July 30, 2006
Media preview: Tuesday, March 28, 2006, 10 a.m.
February 1, 2006
“Hiroshi Sugimoto: History of History,” a unique investigation into the experience of time and history from the perspective of internationally acclaimed artist Hiroshi Sugimoto, will be on view at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery from April 1 through July 30, 2006. The Sackler presentation will coincide with Sugimoto’s major retrospective exhibition at the Smithsonian’s neighboring Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
Comprised of more than 80 works, “History of History” juxtaposes Sugimoto’s own photographs, selected from the artist’s well-known series of seascapes, natural history dioramas and wax museum figures, with an enormous range of traditional Japanese and ritual artifacts all drawn from Sugimoto’s private collection. The exhibition’s contrast of past and present add a new dimension to Sugimoto’s photographs, which the artist has famously described as “time exposed.”
In “History of History,” Sugimoto’s preoccupation with the passage of time takes on concrete, multiple forms, as he places photographs from his various series in contexts of history of Japanese art, civilization and ritual. Sugimoto’s juxtapositions of photographs with geological specimens and aesthetic objects that he has collected during the past decades, explore time, life and spirituality.
Sugimoto first developed “History of History” for the Galerie Hermes in Tokyo (2003), and has enlarged and refined the initial concept, adding many new objects and editing out others, to design an installation specifically for the Sackler Gallery. From vitrine design to wall text, and from object sequencing to lighting, Sugimoto has created a site-specific installation that stands on its own and reverberates with Japanese art from the Sackler and Freer’s unparalleled collections.
Beginning with visually elegant prehistoric fossils of plant and animal life, the exhibition offers a tour of history that includes ritual objects from Japan’s Jomon and Kofun periods (sixth century B.C.E. to seventh century C.E.); religious reliquaries, textiles, mandala, paintings, sutra, and sculpture from the eighth through the 15th century; and a number of recent assemblages in which the artist has combined ancient works or fragments with his own photographs and other contemporary objects. The exhibition embraces an immense span of time, materials and representational processes, from fossilized accretions to mechanical reproductions and stone or bronze ritual objects and sculptures, to silver-gelatin prints. The resulting presentation is a precisely staged, richly evocative construction of history—a history that unfolds through attentive experience and a continual discovery of the past in the present and the present in the past. As Sugimoto writes in the introduction to the “History of History” exhibition catalogue:
“Contemporary art and ancient art are like oil and water: seemingly opposite poles. Yet for the longest time now, I have found the two melding ineffably into one, more like water and air. Living with pieces of ancient and medieval art, I have come to feel that I might borrow upon some small increment of their beauty, so as to transplant that power into my works. Seen here are seascapes informed by my mentor, ancient art, and that unworthy pupil, my contemporary art.”
Born in Tokyo in 1948, Sugimoto graduated from St. Paul’s University in Tokyo in 1970 and left Japan for the United States to study at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1972. There he absorbed the tenets of Conceptualism and Minimalism, which continue to inform the technical and intellectual rigor of his work. In 1974, he moved to New York City and became a dealer and collector of Japanese and East Asian Art in 1979. During the subsequent decade, according to coordinating curator Debra Diamond, Sugimoto was a frequent visitor to the Sackler and Freer galleries, where he studied the Japanese collections.
A fully illustrated, bilingual catalog written and designed by Sugimoto and translated by Alfred Birnbaum was published by Rikuyosha Co., Ltd. in 2004. Available in hardcover only, the 165-page publication contains an introductory statement, an outline of Japanese religious history, extended catalog entries by Sugimoto and lists of selected solo and group exhibitions.
The exhibition, which is conceived and curated by Sugimoto, is a joint collaboration among the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Freer Gallery of Art, and the Japan Society in New York City, where “History of History” was heralded as the “Best Museum Show of 2005” by New York magazine. The Sackler presentation is made possible by the Parnassus Foundation and Mr. and Mrs. James Shinn.
The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (1050 Independence Ave. S.W.) and the Freer Gallery of Art (12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W.) together form the national museum of Asian art for the United States. The Freer also houses a major collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century American art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day, except Dec. 25, and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 357-1729, or visit the exhibitions section of the galleries’ website: asia.si.edu.