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Hiroshi Sugimoto: Opticks

March 14, 2020 - August 15, 2020

Three large square photographs hanging on a dark gray wall, each photograph is a single solid color: red, yellow, and blue, respectively

Fraenkel Gallery is pleased to present Hiroshi Sugimoto: Opticks, an exhibition of new large-scale photographs on view for the first time in the U.S. The images depict the color of light Sugimoto observed through a prism in his Tokyo studio. Using Polaroid film, he recorded sections of the rainbow spectrum projected into a darkened chamber, paying particular attention to the spaces and gaps between hues. The resulting works, each measuring approximately 5’ framed, are vivid, near-sculptural renderings of pure light. The exhibition will be on view from March 26 to August 15, 2020, and can be viewed through our Online Viewing Room.

Sugimoto describes his process, which began before sunrise and depended on the clarity of the winter light: “First thing, I would check for hints of light dawning above the eastern horizon. If the day promised fair weather, next I would sight the ‘morning star’ shining to the upper right of the nascent dawn. Depending on how bright Venus appeared, I could judge the clarity of the air that day—Tokyo is clear almost every day in winter thanks to the prevailing seasonal west-high east-low pressure patterns. Only then did I ready my old Polaroid camera and start warming up a film pack from the long winter night chill,” he writes. In his studio, he used a mirror outfitted with a special micro-adjusting tilting mechanism, and projected light from the prism onto the mirror. By adjusting the mirror’s angle, he could separate individual colors of light. “I could split red into an infinity of reds,” he explains.

In his work, Hiroshi Sugimoto has explored the ways photography can be used to record traces of invisible but elemental forces. His philosophical approach asks questions about the human experience of these phenomena. Inspired by the writings and research of Sir Isaac Newton and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe on the science and experience of light, the works in Opticks examine the infinite nature and dual status of color as a physical phenomena and an emotional force. Sugimoto titled Opticks after Newton’s 1704 book of the same name, which presented his groundbreaking experiments with prisms and light. More than 100 years later, in 1810, Goethe published Zur Farbenlehre (Theory of Colors), a study of the physical basis of colors and human responses to them, which found Newton’s “impersonal scientific exposition wanting on artistic grounds,” Sugimoto writes.

Looking at light through his own prism, he notes:

I too had my doubts about Newton’s seven-colour spectrum: yes, I could see his red-orange-yellow-green-blue-indigo-violet schema, but I could just as easily discern many more different colours in-between, nameless hues of red-to-orange and yellow-to-green. Why must science always cut up the whole into little pieces when it identifies specific attributes? The world is filled with countless colours, so why did natural science insist on just seven? I seem to get a truer sense of the world from those disregarded intracolours. Does not art serve to retrieve what falls through the cracks, now that scientific knowledge no longer needs a God?

The exhibition will also include a sculptural rendering of a mathematical model from Sugimoto’s series of conceptual forms, along with work from other series.


March 14, 2020
August 15, 2020
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Fraenkel Gallery


Wheelchair accessible
BIPOC artist(s), Women curated, LGBTQIA+ owned
Event Type
Gallery, Visual Art


Fraenkel Gallery
49 Geary Street
San Francisco, CA 94108 United States
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