12 October, 2011

12 Oct - Bono and Hiroshi Sugimoto

This weekend I attended The Chinati Foundation’s 25th anniversary celebration in Marfa, Texas. It’s founder, artist Donald Judd, conceived of creating a place that would present art (originally his alongside that of Dan Flavin and John Chamberlain) in a permanent space to carefully address the context of place, architecture, and constancy. In Judd’s words, “It takes a great deal of time and thought to install work carefully. This should not always be thrown away. Most art is fragile and some should be placed and never moved again. Somewhere a portion of contemporary art has to exist as an example of what the art and its context were meant to be. Somewhere, just as the platinum iridium meter guarantees the tape measure, a strict measure must exist for the art of this time and place."

The Chinati Foundation opened to the public in 1986 as an independent, non-profit, publicly funded institution (supported largely by the DIA Foundation). The collection now includes 15 outdoor concrete works and 100 aluminum works by Judd, 25 sculptures by John Chamberlain, an installation by Dan Flavin occupying six former army barracks, and permanent installations by artists including Carl Andre, Ingólfur Arnarsson, Roni Horn, Richard Long, and Claes Oldenburg.

In addition to the permanent collection, Chinati also presents temporary exhibitions and this weekend featured an installation by internationally celebrated photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto. I have long admired and exhibited Sugimoto’s photography and was surprised to find that this show consisted of 24 glass pagodas, each six inches high, presented on Japanese wood pedestals. At the center of each pagoda, however, I discovered a thread from his earlier works - miniature unique images of his iconic seascape photographs (pictured above, left).

I met Sugimoto on the opening night and attended his lecture in downtown Marfa the next day, curious to learn more about this new body of work. The lecture addressed Sugimoto’s creative influences, exhibition history, and current and future projects. It touched upon his recent architectural work and how his ongoing fascination with Japanese antiquities brought him to this new body of sculptural pagodas and linked him back to Donald Judd who apparently had a similar affinity. The talk, however, took a wildly unexpected turn and got me thinking about the intersection of fame, celebrity, and cross-disciplinary inspiration.

About twenty minutes into the lecture, Sugimoto's slideshow of images went from his own work to his collection of Japanese antiquities to U2's "Claw," a massive four-legged supporting rig build for their most recent world tour. Um, what?

Sugimoto laughed, and said, and now we will talk about something very different. Sugimoto proceeded to launch into a story of being taken by private jet to Bono’s beautiful villa in Nice a few years ago. He had never met Bono and was not totally sure who he was, but he was enthralled with the extravagance of transport and magnificence of locale. Bono greeted Sugimoto at the villa and told him that he was a great admirer of his Seascapes. Bono then asked if Sugimoto might consider shooting a seascape from this villa for the cover of U2's next album. At this point in the talk, Sugimoto chuckles, and tells the audience that he is not a commercial photographer. Had Bono NOT asked him for the shot he may well have made a picture, but since Bono asked him to do it he had to decline. He clearly was entertained with this aspect of the story.

Bono and Sugimoto continued the conversation, and ultimately one of Sugimoto’s existing photographs, Boden Sea, was used for the No Line on the Horizon album cover and title. The photograph was also used in a repeated image that spanned the massive video screens atop "The Claw" during the world tour. Taken with his work being featured amidst the magnitude and scope of U2's fame (it turned out to be the highest-grossing and highest-attended concert tour in history), Sugimoto remains star struck. At one point during the lecture Sugimoto showed a concert clip where Bono interrupts one of his signature songs in a stadium full of screaming fans to give a shout out to "Sugimoto-san." Sugimoto beamed, momentarily speechless, basking in the memory.

This lecture was an example of artists at the pinnacle of their respective careers being awed by the achievements of peers in other fields. For the same reason that I love Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine, Adam Bly’s Seed Salon series, and the Sundance Channel’s Iconoclasts, it is fascinating to explore the ways that creative visionaries interact with, inspire, and admire one another’s lives and accomplishments. The examples of this interaction is endless and fascinating, the transcendence of "good work" clearly stretches far beyond its intended or understood audience into other realms of thought and interaction. In Sugimoto’s words "the works are really connected to the very deep roots of the human mind, even to the minds of musicians who have reached the pinnacle of success."

Beyond the glitz of private jets, French villas, solo exhibitions, auction records, and massive world tours, this type of intersection is a fertile place for growth and innovation and offers a singular opportunity to explore new ways to illuminate and understand our world.