Hiroshi Sugimoto “Gates of Paradise”

Japan Society Gallery

poster for Hiroshi Sugimoto “Gates of Paradise”
[Image: Photograph © Hiroshi Sugimoto]

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In celebration of Japan Society’s 110th anniversary, internationally acclaimed artist Hiroshi Sugimoto invites visitors on a voyage back in time with his new exhibition Hiroshi Sugimoto: Gates of Paradise. The exhibition brings to life the captivating story of four boys, who in the late sixteenth century became the first Japanese emissaries to Europe. The exhibition unveils a new monumental black-and-white photo series by Sugimoto, displaying his images of Renaissance European art and architecture in conjunction with east-west ‘hybrid’ (nanban) masterpieces from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Japan, on loan from the world’s top collections.

In honoring one of the earliest documented moments of cross-cultural exchange between Japan and the West, Gates of Paradise encapsulates Japan Society’s misson of advancing mutual understanding between Japan and the United States.

To celebrate the exhibition and the Society’s anniversary year, Sugimoto unveils his graceful extension of the Japan Society Gallery’s physical space with a newly designed lobby garden in the Society’s landmarked building, featuring traditional Japanese design elements like large bonsai, Kyoto-produced ceramic tiles and cedar bark walls. The artist will also premiere his new noh play Rikyu-Enoura in the Society’s recently renovated auditorium from November 3-5, 2017.
Hiroshi Sugimoto (b. 1948), Staircase at Villa Farnese II, Caprarola, 2016. Gelatin silver print. © Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy of the Polo Museale del Lazio-Ministry
of Cultural Heritage and Italian Tourism.

In 1582, at the height of Japan’s “Christian Century,” four boys named Mancio Ito, Miguel Chijiwa, Juliao Nakaura, and Martinao Hara were dispatched to Europe by Christian-convert samurai. Fêted at the courts of princes and popes, the boys visited some of the grandest monuments of Renaissance architecture before returning to Japan in 1590. Largely unknown in the U.S., this pivotal moment in the history of global cross-cultural exchange is known as the Tenshō Embassy. In the spring of 2015, nearly 500 years later, Sugimoto was traveling through Italy when he came across a fresco documenting the Japanese envoys, leading him to investigate the boys’ journey in greater detail. Sugimoto realized that he had photographed many of the sites that the boys had visited in their European sojourn, and from that moment he endeavored to capture the remaining locations, carefully crafting his own travels in their footsteps. This culimated in his series depicting the “Gates of Paradise” by quattrocento master Lorenzo Ghiberti, which premieres in the exhibition.

To provide greater context for the boys’ journey and their pivotal role in global history, Hiroshi Sugimoto: Gates of Paradise also draws attention to a parallel development: a new, short-lived genre known as nanban art, in which European and Christian themes were executed by Japanese artists using traditional techniques. Gates of Paradise includes key masterpieces of nanban art, including several six-fold painted screens, one of which is designated as an Important Cultural Property by the Bunka-cho, Japan’s Ministry of Culture. These works provoke visitors to consider the significance of global travel and international dialogue at the dawn of the early modern age. The loaned masterpieces will be displayed in two rotations between October 20, 2017 – November 17, 2017 and November 21, 2017 – January 7, 2018.

Viewers will enter the exhibition in Japan Society’s lofty North Gallery, where a succession of images by Sugimoto captures the sites and artworks visited by the boys of the Tenshō Embassy. Monumental in size, and visualizing what the young envoys saw through Sugimoto’s eyes, these black and white images include the Pantheon in Rome, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and (in the subsequent Bamboo Gallery) the Last Supper of Leonardo da Vinci. Visitors will continue into the South Gallery, where nanban artworks, amongst other masterpieces of Japan’s Golden Age, will give context to the European art and architecture in Sugimoto’s photographs. At the conclusion of the South Gallery, Sugimoto’s Gates of Paradise series will be debuted.

Sugimoto’s meticulous practice defines what it means to be a multi-disciplinary artist working today. His world- renowned photographs—widely lauded as iconic meditations on time and history—form the perfect visual analogy for the Japan Society anniversary in a way that parallels the Society’s mission since its founding in 1907.

“As we celebrate our 110th anniversary, there could be no more appropriate reflection on the institution’s mission to deepen mutual understanding across cultures than with Gates of Paradise,” says Motoatsu Sakurai, President of Japan Society. “We owe our sincerest appreciation to Sugimoto, a true Renaissance man, for conceiving this exhibition.”

“We are thrilled to introduce both Hiroshi Sugimoto’s new exhibition at the gallery and his elegantly designed interior garden for the Society’s lobby, reflecting his design philosophy,” says Yukie Kamiya, Director of Japan Society Gallery. “With Gates of Paradise, Sugimoto explores the fundamental question, ‘What is the West?,’ while visualizing a nascent moment of cross-cultural exchange, directly in line with Japan Society’s mission of exploring the inextricable links connecting Japanese culture to a larger global dialogue.”
Gates of Paradise is conceived by Hiroshi Sugimoto and organized by Japan Society.

Performing Arts
Rikyu-Enoura, conceived by Hiroshi Sugimoto
Friday, November 3 and Saturday, November 4 at 7:30pm, and Sunday, November 5 at 4:30pm
The world premiere of famed international artist Hiroshi Sugimoto’s a new noh play, conceived and assembled by famed international artist Hiroshi Sugimoto, Rikyu-Enoura about the illuminating life and tragic death of revered 16th-century tea master Sen-no-Rikyu. Co-produced by Japan Society and Odawara Art Foundation in Japan, this new play, written in medieval Japanese language and directed in the classic noh tradition, in Japan Society’s auditorium, recounts the tragic suicide of Sen-no-Rikyu (1522-1591), master of the Japanese tea ceremony, who established the “way of tea” in the late 16th century during the period when Christianity flourished among the samurai warrior class. Rikyu-Enoura features esteemed noh actors Kanze Tetsunojo and Katayama Kurouemon and noh musician Kamei Hirotada. Sen So’oku, direct descendant of Sen-no-Rikyu and heir to the Grand Master of the Mushakouji Senke tea school, appears on stage to offer a tea ceremony as an homage to the late great master. Presented at Japan Society’s Lila Acheson Wallace Auditorium, in Japanese with English subtitles. Tickets can be purchased online, by visiting or calling the Box Office at (212) 715-1258.
Other Events
Escape East @ 333
Launch Party: Friday, October 20 at 6:00—9:00pm
November 10, at 6:00—9:00pm
Closing Party: Sunday, January 7, 2018 at 6:00—9:00pm
Escape the long work week and celebrate Hiroshi Sugimoto: Gates of Paradise with the popular monthly mixer for art enthusiasts. With free gallery admission, music, snacks, and drink specials courtesy of Joto Sake, you’ll feel like you’re in Paradise. Free and open to the public.

Hiroshi Sugimoto (b. 1948, Tokyo, Japan) has defined what it means to be a multidisciplinary contemporary artist, blurring the lines between photography, painting, installation, and most recently, architecture. His iconic photographs have bridged Eastern and Western ideologies, tracing the origins of time and societal progress along the way. Preserving and picturing memory and time is a central theme of Sugimoto’s photography, including the ongoing series Dioramas (1976– ), Theaters (1978– ), and Seascapes (1980– ). In 1999, Deutsche Guggenheim commissioned and presented an exhibition of his series Portraits (1999– ). Sugimoto has organized and curated several exhibitions of his own work as well as traditional Japanese art, sometimes juxtaposing the two bodies of material in single exhibitions, such as History of History, which was co- organized with Japan Society (on view from September 23, 2005, to February 19, 2006) and the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. His work is held in prestigious museums and collections worldwide, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; National Gallery, London; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; Tate, London; and Smithsonian Institute of Art, Washington, D.C., among numerous others. The artist current institutional exhibtions include ‘The Sea and the Mirror,’ at Chateau La Coste, France, May 9 – September 3, 2017 and ‘Le Notti Bianche’ at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Italy, May 16 – October 1, 2017.



from October 20, 2017 to January 07, 2018

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