Thirteen large-format photographs from conceptual artist Hiroshi Sugimoto’s ongoing Diorama series, executed between 1976 and 2012, feature far-flung landscapes which initially seem to be documents of the natural world. However, in fact taken from various museum dioramas, the pristine quality and stillness, tonal richness and seemingly infinite palette of blacks, whites, and grays of these large-scale pieces reveal their artificiality.
This exhibition surveys four decades of Sugimoto’s work, with the earliest works on view dated to 1976, when Sugimoto first moved to New York and visited the American Museum of Natural History. It was here that the artist was overwhelmed by the fragility of existence that the model of nature, the diorama, could capture. Sugimoto recognised the works as accurate replicas of the world, frozen in time, whereby the only thing that is absent is life itself.
Since beginning this Diorama series – an exploration of nature as mediated through the museum – the notion of fossilisation has become an important concept which is explored as both a living record and point of departure into history, crystalising a moment in time into a singular object. Sugimoto’s process echoes this notion, capturing frozen Diorama scenes on his large-format camera with specific lighting and extended exposures.
This exhibition documents the artist’s evolution of themes, beginning with his first photograph from the series, Polar Bear (1976). In 2012 the artist returned to the American Museum of Natural History in New York where the project began, and created a new work which envisions the world as it was before and will be after animal life has gone extinct. These pieces synthesize the artist’s lifelong interest in the transformation and destruction of the natural world, its history and its future.
Hiroshi Sugimoto: Still Life, until 24 January 2015, Pace Gallery, 6 Burlington Gardens, London, W1S 3ET.
1. Birds of the Alps, Hiroshi Sugimoto, 2012, gelatin silver print, courtesy of Pace Gallery.