Hiroshi Sugimoto: From naked to clothed

Dates : March 31 (Saturday) - July 1 (Sunday), 2012

“The history of clothing as old as humanity itself” — Hiroshi Sugimoto

The fashions of Gabrielle Chanel, Yves Saint-Laurent, Rei Kawakubo and other seminal designers of the 20th century are captured on film in Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Stylized Sculpture series, the centerpiece of an exhibition that asks the question: What does it mean to be clothed?

The Hara Museum of Contemporary Art is proud to present a solo exhibition by the contemporary artist Hiroshi Sugimoto.

In his explorations of the medium of photography, Sugimoto has won international acclaim for his many works that shine light on the human race and the world. We live in an age of easy alteration or retouching of images through digital technology. Prior to the digital age, however, Sugimoto had come to the realization that the photograph was a thing of fiction and had investigated the essential nature of the human eye by capturing the world through the camera’s eye. His subtle black-and-white photographs are backed by artist’s penetrating ideas and superb technique, and his unrivaled images mesmerize the viewer.

At the center of this exhibition is the photographic series Stylized Sculpture, which showcases the fashion of such seminal 20th century designers as Gabrielle Chanel, Yves Saint-Laurent and Rei Kawakubo. This series reflects the vision of the artist who sees the history of clothing as “being as old as that of humanity itself, ” and who equates the human body clothed in “artificial skin” as “modern sculpture. ” In these images, each of which was photographed on carefully selected mannequins instead of live models, the series hints at the significance that clothing has for humans and delves into the relationship between clothes and the human race.

In addition to this series, selections from Sugimoto’s Dioramas and Portraits series are included to further delineate the history of the human race along the lines of the exhibition’s theme. Interwoven with these are Sugimoto’s design work for the Bunraku puppet theater and costume design for Noh theater, as well as selected items from the artist’s personal art collection, which together comprise clues to decipher the human body and what it means to be clothed from Sugimoto’s very special perspective.

Stylized Sculpture (15 works)
As the centerpiece of this exhibition, the series Stylized Sculpture, which takes clothing (and the human body) as its subject matter, embodied in the fashions (from the Kyoto Costume Institute) of such seminal 20th century designers as Madeleine Vionnet, Gabrielle Chanel, Cristobal Balanciaga, Yves Saint-Laurent, John Galliano, Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo. These images are informed by the artist’s view of the human body and the man-made skins that envelop it as “contemporary sculpture.” The older items include designs from the 1920s, and since the idealized human form has changed over time, each piece was photographed on carefully selected mannequins instead of live models so as to draw out the original beauty of the design.

Dioramas and Portraits (9 works)

The photographic works in the Dioramas series were taken of displays at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, while those in the Portraits series were taken of displays at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in London. The former reproduces in minute detail prehistoric environments and early humanoids, and the latter famous historical and contemporary figures. Though artificial, the figures, when seen through the eye of the camera, seem to have an eternal, timeless quality to their existence. They express in a straightforward way the special character of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s photographic works. Dioramas was an early series that catapaulted Sugimoto into the limelight.

From Naked to Clothed

Why do we humans wear clothes? We dress up, we want to be something other than what we are. Or no, we are the guise of self we put on. Going naked is frowned upon in today’s world. We feel shame at our naked self. We’re all dress-up dolls. We wear clothes to play our everyday selves. We only go naked for brief intervals, when bathing or procreating. And we need lots of pretense and acting to put us in the mood for procreation, lots of clothing to get ecstatic about the naked body.

But then even after that brief interval of procreative activity, we go on wearing our guises. The guises others know us by. We wear our intelligence, however much we have or don’t have, likewise our assets and tastes. Clothes are not the only costumes. Expressions, gestures, glances, we wear them all automatically. Not by our own volition, our clothing decides our look. Our clothes don’t become us, we become our clothes. We choose face masks to best match our clothing.

We were happier long ago when we lived naked.

Hiroshi Sugimoto

Featured artist

Hiroshi Sugimoto

Organized by

Hara Museum of Contemporary Art

Sponsored by

Dom Pérignon

Cooperation provided by

The Kyoto Costume Institute, The Odawara Art Foundation, Gallery Koyanagi