Explore Tokyo through Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Designs and Architecture 

SUNDIAL, 2018. (c) Hiroshi Sugimoto/Courtesy of NMRL
Christie’s Tokyo Office
, 2012. (c) Hiroshi Sugimoto/Courtesy of NMRL
Lounge Six
, 2017. (c) Hiroshi Sugimoto/Courtesy of NMRL
London Gallery Shirokane
, 2009. (c) Hiroshi Sugimoto/Courtesy of NMRL
London Gallery Roppongi,
 2011. (c) Hiroshi Sugimoto/Courtesy of NMRL
Sahsya Kanetanaka
, 2013. (c) Hiroshi Sugimoto/Courtesy of NMRL
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Hiroshi Sugimoto needs no introduction. His artistic career spanning over forty years has been the subject of numerous museum and gallery shows around the world. Sugimoto’s photographic works form part of the most distinguished art collections in his home country, Japan, and internationally. His photographs, an expression of “time exposed” in Sugimoto’s own words, serve as a time capsule where physicality is transcendent. The lesser known architectural and design works which Sugimoto has been tirelessly devoting his time to in the recent decade capture this essence. He says that “as a boy, I loved making models. Later, my interest was to shift to photographs, another “modelized” version of the real world.”

TEXT: Julia Tarasyuk
IMAGES: (c) Hiroshi Sugimoto/Courtesy of NMRL

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s interest in architecture flourished in his 90s photographic series with the eponymous title. In 2007 in preparation of the show Hiroshi Sugimoto: History of History at the Royal Ontario Museum he faced a struggle – the newly designed Daniel Libeskind wing of the museum was nothing short of challenging for any artist to work with. Difficulties in finding practical and spiritual comfort in spaces masterminded by well-known architects enabled Sugimoto to refine his own sense of space. It was a visual learning process through which Sugimoto polished his ideas of a building that radiated harmony.

In 2008 Hiroshi Sugimoto and architect Tomoyuki Sakakida established New Material Research Laboratory (NMRL) – an architectural studio where Sugimoto’s philosophy “traditional materials are the new materials” serves as the main concept. Quintessentially Japanese principles of bringing the past into the future unfolds flawlessly in every project conceived by Sugimoto, realized with the help of Tomoyuki Sakakida, and NMRL team. Ancient construction methods are used to create truly modern settings. Antique materials are being collected to later be incorporated them in spatial designs. This approach proves to be unique for this architectural studio. Sugimoto works with the best artisans to apply traditional craftsmanship into contemporary spaces.

There are over a dozen places in Sugimoto’s native Tokyo to enjoy his sculptural and design works and these are must-visits for anyone who wants to grasp the artist’s profound philosophical approach to bringing spirituality into everyday life.

 

Sundial Otemachi Place (2 Chome-3-1 Otemachi, Chiyoda-ku)

SUNDIAL, 2018. (c) Hiroshi Sugimoto/Courtesy of NMRL

Recently unveiled public sculpture Sundial in the middle a busy high-rise neighborhood of Tokyo is precisely what it says it is – a giant 11m sundial made of pure aluminum. Sundial, installed in 2018 facing Alexander Liberman’s bright red Olympic Iliad, is rooted in Sugimoto’s Mathematical Models sculpture series, which attempts to transform mathematical equations into objects with the use of cutting edge computer technologies. Standing in front of Sundial surrounded by the sky scrapers of Otemachi area, you can’t help but reflect on how far we’ve come from ancient Egyptian and Babylonian astronomy to which we attribute the earliest archeological references of shadow clocks to the present day.

 

Christie’s Tokyo Office (Meiji Seimei Kan 4F, 2-1-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku)

Christie’s Tokyo Office
, 2012. (c) Hiroshi Sugimoto/Courtesy of NMRL

The Tokyo office of the renowned auction house Christie’s is an artwork in itself. Sugimoto and NMRL designed the exhibition galleries in 2012 to showcase the sales highlights. The inaugural show featured the photographical works by Sugimoto himself. Visit when the sales’ centrepieces are touring around Asia and you’ll be amazed how miraculously this contemporary space cocoons masterpieces by Rothko, Pollock, Picasso, Monet and the like.

 

Gallery Koyanagi (Koyanagi Bldg. 9F, 1-7-5 Ginza, Chuo-ku)

One of the oldest contemporary art establishments in Japan, Gallery Koyanagi was founded in 1987 by Atsuko Koyanagi. Started as a space for contemporary ceramics it quickly evolved into a platform to showcase cutting- edge artworks and photography that failed to get much exposure in Japan at that time. The reason for such a change in programming was Atsuko meeting Hiroshi Sugimoto who just came back to live in Japan from the US and struggled to find a contemporary art gallery to work with. Sugimoto became Koyanagi’s lifelong partner and the artist of the gallery, and couple of years ago Gallery Koyanagi re-opened in a new space designed by the master. A very inviting gallery space possesses everything that Sugimoto’s design is about, the highlight being a viewing room. You will never want to leave this warm and engaging space in earthy tones filled with Sugimoto’s signature designs one of them being a giant shoji (paper screen) composed only of vertical crosspieces. The delicate light structure is a reference to the traditional Japanese design element brilliantly transformed with the contemporary technologies.

 

Lounge SIX at Ginza SIX (6 Chome-10-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku)

Lounge Six
, 2017. (c) Hiroshi Sugimoto/Courtesy of NMRL

The newest addition to the Tokyo retail scene, Ginza Six, created by the legendary Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi, hides another design gem – the Lounge space for members of the department store who yearly spend over $10K. Ginza always had a special place in Sugimoto’s heart. His family home was right in the heart of the area. Before the war they had a beauty products business and Sugimoto’s early childhood memories were intertwined with the legendary fashion neighborhood. Paying homage to his most precious souvenirs, in the Ginza Six Lounge Sugimoto and New Material Research Laboratory introduced the very core of their philosophy and signature design elements including shoji screen and tin wall panels. The interior is an epitome of the Japanese style iki, chic, which creates the certain rustic simplicity with the most refined tools. A private shopping experience has never been more sophisticated.

 

London gallery Shirokane & Roppongi
(3 Chome-1-15 Shirokane, Minato-ku) / (6 Chome-6-9 Roppongi, Minato-ku)

London Gallery Shirokane
, 2009. (c) Hiroshi Sugimoto/Courtesy of NMRL
London Gallery Roppongi,
 2011. (c) Hiroshi Sugimoto/Courtesy of NMRL

London Gallery in Shirokane and Roppongi areas is run by a father and son antique dealer duo who specialize in Asian art including the arts of Japan, Korea and China and mainly focus on Buddhist art, folding screens, hanging scrolls, ceramics and other crafts. With a background in antique dealing and a vast collection of Asian art, Sugimoto had a perfect vision of the gallery space. Both venues possess a Zen-like atmosphere where time very much stands still. Serenity aptly defines the design which creates a perfect home for the antique masterpieces. With an astonishing attention to detail the gallery space is a breathing and living environment which tells the story of every object.

 

Isetan Salone (Tokyo Midtown Galleria 1-2F, 9-7-4 Akasaka, Minato-ku)

The new Isetan Salone concept store in Tokyo Midtown centre in Roppongi came about in 2015, marking one of the first projects in retail for Hiroshi Sugimoto and NMRL. It was a challenging task to imagine how the space would evolve with clothes and accessories on display but even with colourful fashion distractions, the signature design by Sugimoto and NMRL is largely present. Walking up the stairs to the second floor, take a moment to admire the wall covered with tin panels reminiscent of shiny fish scales. This technique, unique to the NMRL, has been inspired by the so-called billboard architecture that flourished in Japan after the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. Sugimoto and his team revived the use of tin panels characteristic of the billboard architecture and transformed it into contemporary design elements. The panels are applied by highly skilled craftsmen, who later wash the surface with special acid to create a distinctive texture.

 

Sahsya Kanetanaka (3-6-1 Kitaaoyama, Minato-ku)

Sahsya Kanetanaka
, 2013. (c) Hiroshi Sugimoto/Courtesy of NMRL

A meal at Sahsya Kanetanaka is a treat of all sorts, a gastronomic and an aesthetic one. The contemporary kaiseki restaurant centers around the serene design by Hiroshi Sugimoto and NMRL. Entering the restaurant building, look up to admire one of the Sugimoto’s sculptures from Conceptual forms and mathematical models series. This silver cone is said to be pointing at Rio de Janeiro. Then look down – the paving tiles, another signature element of Sugimoto and NMRL’s designs, are produced by onishi, Japanese tile craftsmen, who make tiles for an important Todaiji Temple in Nara. The unique tiles, commonly used in the ancient times, have a handcrafted surface boasting a very subtle gradient of lights and shade. At Sahsya Kanetanaka the centerpiece is the garden, which guests can observe through the giant glass wall while enjoying the meal. Japanese garden design holds a special place in Sugimoto’s heart and the beauty of this very intimate and peaceful green oasis in the middle of bustling shopping area of Tokyo is simply divine.

 

Hara Museum of Contemporary Art (4-7-25 Kitashinagawa, Shinagawa-ku)

While working on his solo exhibition at the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Hiroshi Sugimoto made a curatorial decision, which later highly impacted his design practice. The glass rotunda where one of his sculptures was exhibited had a rather unattractive view of an AC unit. Sugimoto’s solution was to cover it with a fence sculpture made of bamboo brooms. The readymade material later found its permanent place in the portfolio of Sugimoto’s designs. Bamboo brooms offer a variation of the traditional bamboo fences used in the traditional sukiya-style architecture. It is said that the broom also refers to a legend of Kyoto people. Being extremely polite and evasive, Kyoto hosts will never dare to ask their guests to leave. They’ll insist you stay for dinner, and then for tea and after, for never ending drinks. But beware if you see the broom upside down. It’s a sign your hosts want you to leave! This won’t ever happen at the Hara Museum so you can enjoy Sugimoto’s brooms at your hearts content.

If your travels take you outside Tokyo, make sure to add other Sugimoto and NMRL designed venues to your itinerary: Enoura Observatory, Izu photo museum and MOA museum, all within an hour and a half drive from central Tokyo.

 

Where else to see Hiroshi Sugimoto and NMRL designs in Tokyo in 2019:

New Material Research Laboratory ・ New Material X Old Material
21 October 2018 to 3 March 2019
Archi-Depot Museum

Cartier, Crystallization of Time (Exhibition design by New Material Research Laboratory)
2 October to 16 December 2019
The National Art Center, Tokyo

 

 

About the artist

Hiroshi Sugimoto was born in 1948 in Tokyo. He took his earliest photographs in high school, photographing film footage of Audrey Hepburn as it played in a movie theater. After receiving a BA from Saint Paul’s University in Tokyo in 1970, he traveled west, first encountering communist countries such as the Soviet Union and Poland, and later Western Europe. In 1971, he visited Los Angeles and decided to stay, receiving a BFA from the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles in 1972. In 1974, he moved to New York. In 1976 he visited the city’s American Museum of Natural History for the first time and he was intrigued by the lifelike qualities of the dioramas of animals and people. These provided the subject matter for the first of his Dioramas series, which, along with the Seascapes and Theaters series (deadpan, near-abstract photographs of such sites), were conceived between 1976 and 1977 and have continued through the present. He has since developed other ongoing series, including photographs of waxwork-museum figures, drive-in theaters, and Buddhist sculptures, all of which similarly blur distinctions between the real and the fictive. In Praise of Shadows (1998) is a series of photographs based on Gerhard Richter’s paintings of burning candles. His Architecture series (2000–03) consists of blurred images of well-known examples of Modernist architecture. In 2004, Sugimoto began to photograph Richard Serra‚Äôs torqued spiral sculpture Joe, exploring the work‚Äôs dynamic viewpoints and dramatic manipulations of light and shadow; for the publication of this suite of photographs, novelist Jonathan Safran Foer contributed an adjacent textual component. The series Conceptual Forms (also 2004) takes up the subject of Industrial Revolution-era mechanical models used to demonstrate the movements of the rapidly advancing machines of the day. Favoring black-and-white, Sugimoto has continued to use the same camera, a turn-of-the-century box camera, throughout his career.

Sugimoto has had solo exhibitions at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Osaka (1989), Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (1994), Centre International d’Art Contemporain in Montreal (1995), Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston (1996), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2000), Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin and Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (2000), Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (2003), Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. (2006), and Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin (2008), among other venues. He has also participated in numerous international group exhibitions, among them The Art of Memory/The Loss of History at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York (1985), Carnegie International (1991), Japanese Art After 1945: Scream Against the Sky at the Yokohama Museum of Art and Guggenheim Museum SoHo (1994), Prospect 96 at the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt (1996), Johannesburg Biennale (1997), International Triennale of Contemporary Art in Yokohama (2001), Moving Pictures (2002) and Singular Forms (2004) at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and Reality Check at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (2008). He received fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in 1980 and the National Endowment for the Arts in 1982. In 2001, he won the Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography. He lives and works in New York and Tokyo.

 

 


 

Julia Tarasyuk is an art consultant and art writer with over a decade of experience collaborating with museums, galleries and independent art projects in Russia, UK, France and Japan. In 2015 she started an online magazine Museeum.com and runs the platform as its editor-in-chief. Julia is currently based in Tokyo, where she organizes tailor-made art tours for various institutions, arts councils and private collectors and actively supports the exchange between the Japanese and international art scene. Julia is an author of “Art Tokyo” book published in Russia in 2018.

 
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