If you have the good fortune to visit the southern Japanese island of Naoshima—one of the six sites in our current exhibition at the Heinz Architectural Center, White Cube, Green Maze: New Art Landscapes—be sure to look for several works by the Japanese-born, New York-based artist, Hiroshi Sugimoto. You may already know his work from the cover of the last U2 album, No Line on the Horizon, with its segmented photograph of ocean and sky.
In a small village on Naoshima, Sugimoto has restored an Edo-period shrine and inserted a staircase of “optical glass” that descends to an underground stone chamber. It has that special Japanese quality of combining, simultaneously, the traditional and the modern. In common with his photographs, there is a division between an upper and a lower half. Sugimoto has more work at Park, one of several buildings on Naoshima by the great Japanese architect Tadao Ando. Like other Ando interventions, Park functions as a hotel or lodge in which you are surrounded by works of art.
Sugimoto has also installed more than a dozen images of sea and sky outdoors on the island, gelatin silver prints set in sealed acrylic boxes. Titled Time Exposed (1980–97), several of these are placed on exterior concrete walls at Benesse House, an early building by Ando, where they line up to either side of a slot of space that offers a prospect of real sea and sky. Others are found, as if by chance, out in the landscape, on rocks overlooking the sea. I love the sense of discovery when one of these artworks is encountered all by itself in the natural world.
Sugimoto is drawn to the effect of sunlight, moisture and temperature on these photographic works. He seems to be interested in not divorcing or protecting them entirely from nature. It was then a very nice surprise to read that Sugimoto first experimented with situating photographs outdoors here in Pittsburgh when, for the Carnegie International in 1991, he sited twenty-five works out in the museum’s Sculpture Court. Some were even placed inside the fountain, behind the flow of water which was allowed to freeze that winter.
Photographs such as these are typically printed in editions. We checked the list of works on view on Naoshima today against the works acquired by the Carnegie Museum in the early 1990s. There were two matches; that’s to say, two of the photographs in our collection are also in the collection on Naoshima. One of these is Irish Sea, Isle of Man I (#337), a prospect not far from the home of U2’s Bono in Dublin. We decided to include it in the exhibition. You may perhaps imagine yourself halfway around the world, in Ireland or on a distant Japanese island.