Hiroshi Sugimoto: Gagosian Gallery
Frankel, David, Artforum International
Sometimes, when looking at solemn, serious works of art, particularly religious art, I have the giggle reaction of a teenager in church: I wonder, Does this guy ever go to the mall? What are his feelings on chocolate? It helps to get over this hump if I can mentally substitute art for religion--if the artist seems to have invested in artmaking the concentration that a Christian might spend on prayer or a Buddhist on meditation, a care that rewards looking even without shared belief. Hiroshi Sugimoto is one such artist. The quality of his attention to the subjects of his photographs--most famously natural-history-museum dioramas, cinema screens, and seascapes--is long and slow, literally so in that his camera exposures can last a couple of hours. The resulting images have a kind of calm intensity, a sense of acute, precise, finegrained photographic detail yet simultaneously of something indistinct, deindividualized, shifted in time, as if we had somehow glimpsed not the thing seen but its Platonic form.
This is true whatever Sugimoto's subject, but his views of the sea in particular invite symbolic reading. "I am not a religious person," he has said, "but I am a spiritual one," and the ocean as he shoots it suggests a window onto infinity. (So for that matter do the movie screens, which is perhaps more surprising.) When Sugimoto apparently wanted to make a kind of sacred space--this show's title, "7 Days/7 Nights," was the giveaway--it was the sea pictures he chose. The fourteen images here weren't new; only one was made in the past decade and four dated back to 1990. More, Sugimoto had put a good number of them in the same show together before--in smaller prints, at a different gallery, in 1997. So this show, bluntly, was all about the installation.
The space was divided into two long, parallel rooms, one brightly lit, one near dark, each holding seven prints. These photographs, likewise, were divided into daylight and night scenes--so, seven days, seven nights. …