Sugimoto: Architecture

Sugimoto: Architecture in Chicago, Illinois by Hiroshi Sugimoto, 2003

Hiroshi Sugimoto's latest phase of his photographic career features blurred images of well-known architectural works, primarily from the Modern movement of the last century, that provoke ideas of memory, time and form. The series, collected in the exhibition "Sugimoto: Architecture" at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Illinois, is distinctly different in subject matter from his previous studies, including a series of seascapes and a series of figures from wax museums. While the subject matter for each series is unique, the themes and techniques are constant. The long-exposure images isolate the subject - be it human, natural or man-made - and use the subtle effects of light to dematerialize the form to its essence.

The exhibition, designed by Sugimoto, places thirty images in two rooms that flank the museum's main circulation on the ground floor. Facing each other through large openings, each room contains three rows of five images and provides a clear visual axis through the exhibition, appropriate for a museum that places a high emphasis on grids and visual legitimacy. Walking into each gallery, the visitor is confronted by fifteen gray, free-standing slabs that almost reach the translucent glass ceiling, the photos turning their backs on the visitor. This simple gesture accomplishes two things: it forces the visitor to move among the photos in the gallery and, more importantly, it physically embodies the ideas of the images that are presented; each extending the architecture of the photos to the architecture of the exhibition.

The exhibition photographs reproduced here - the Guggenheim Museum in New York by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Einstein Tower in Potsdam, Germany by Erich Mendelsohn, and the Church of the Light in Osaka, Japan by Tadao Ando - are reduced to their essentials through a blurring that accentuates light and form over materiality and detail. At once a statement about architecture itself (Sugimoto definitely prefers Modernism to Postmodernism), the images deal with our perception of objects and our recollection of those objects, each photo resembling our mind's eye view of the buildings rather than a pure representation of them. Framing and view become crucially important, because who would recognize the Guggenheim if it didn't show the spiraling bands of concrete looking over Fifth Avenue?

"Church of the Light" illustrates many of the ideas of the series in one image. While the public may not be as familiar with the works of Japanese architect Tadao Ando as Frank Lloyd Wright or other architects, the building's essence is apparent to the viewer, even though the physicality of it is intangible. The strong sunlight pierces through the "+"-shaped slots, barely illuminating the side walls while creating a strong reflection on the church floor. Altogether the photo reduces the building to a symbol: the cross, a universal symbol of religion. Sugimoto found the main ideas of the architecture and its place and extended it to the viewer through light and form, creating an image that even the visitor to the church could only see in his or her memory.