Hiroshi Sugimoto exhibition: A slow journey through time and space

By Lee Woo-young

The Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art presents a major photographic series by Japanese photographer on lightning, theaters, seascapes, portraits

  • Published : Dec 4, 2013 - 19:40
  • Updated : Dec 4, 2013 - 19:40
“Lightning Fields Composed 012” (left and right) by Hiroshi Sugimoto on display at Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art. (Leeum)

The calm yet thought-provoking images of Hiroshi Sugimoto, one of the most acclaimed artists in contemporary photography, are on exhibit at Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art from this week through next year.

Known for long-exposure photographs intended to capture layers of time and space, Sugimoto presents his photographic series on seascapes, theaters, portraits and lightning done over the past 40 years, beginning in the 1970s, at his solo exhibition in Seoul.

As meticulous and patient as he is with his photographs, Sugimoto waited five or six years before he decided to exhibit his works at Leeum.

“This Leeum museum (exhibition) became the most difficult (one) for me. It took five years for me to figure out how to make this space as beautiful as possible ... (like) my other museum shows,” said Sugimoto at a press gathering for the opening on Tuesday.

Sugimoto, who runs his own architecture firm in Tokyo, said the building designed by Dutch star architect Rem Koolhaas was “too edgy and too ambitious,” that it must not have been designed in consideration of the artists who would display their work there. 

Artist Hiroshi Sugimoto. (Leeum)
“I had to become my own architect. Here I built my own museum in the Rem Koolhaas space,” Sugimoto said.

The exhibition halls at Leeum now include a smaller exhibition space for displaying his diverse photograph series, the results of the artist’s multidisciplinary academic interest in art, history, science, religion and philosophy.

The artist’s most recent work, “Lightning Fields,” was created out of his interest in science and history. Inspired by electromagnetic induction and its discoverer Michael Faraday, Sugimoto induced an electrical discharge on photographic film by generating 400,000 volts. The result is powerful lightning strikes and detailed forms left on the negative film.

While the artist stayed in a darkroom at his studio to seek the original form of electricity, he travelled around the world to capture natural substances ― water and air ― from 1980 to 2002. The artist presents indistinguishable photographs of seas that range from the Yellow Sea in the Far East to the Red Sea on the Egyptian coast and the Black Sea on the Turkish coast.

“I was curious about why those seas have the words yellow, red and black in their names. I am interested in human memories and origins,” the artist explained. “But I don’t remember all of them,” he said, referring to the locations, when asked if he can distinguish different locations in the seascape series.

“The Jeju (picture), I remember very well ... I went to Jeju because I was interested in the name of the Yellow Sea. At that time visiting China was impossible. Jeju was the best location to see the Yellow Sea. But it didn’t look yellow,” he said.

His conceptual approaches to time and space have led to the idea of leaving his shutter open during a movie, making the screen look bright white in contrast with the darkness of the movie theater. Sugimoto also explored British history in his portrait series of King Henry VIII and his six wives ― photographs of their wax figures displayed at Madame Tussauds.

“Photography is like a time machine that travels through time and the history of human beings,” Sugimoto noted.

The exhibition is on view until March 23, 2014, at Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Itaewon-ro, Seoul. Admission is 7,000 won for adults and 4,000 won for youths. For more information, call (02) 2014-6900, or visit www.leeum.org.

By Lee Woo-young (wylee@heraldcorp.com)