Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Last Supper: Acts of God (1999-2012)

When we were in San Francisco recently we did get away from the museums for a short time because there was a photography exhibition that I wanted to see.  Neither Penelope nor I were inspired by it and I actually apologized for dragging my wife away from the museums.  We were, however, in one of those art gallery buildings where there are several galleries on every floor.  As we walked down the hall, I saw a familiar name, The Fraenkel Gallery.  I knew about it for two reasons, one was our interest in photography and two that they were members of the Art Dealers Association of America which Stiebel, Ltd. also belonged to for many years.

We wandered in and had a very pleasant surprise.  Maybe pleasant is the wrong word.  We were confronted by a 25-foot long photograph of the Last Supper, which looked like it had gone through all the sturm und drang of the original event!

At first I could not quite figure out how the photographer, Hiroshi Sugimoto, had manipulated the photograph to get that effect.  It turned out that he had not done anything but rather he let an act of god assist with his creation.  If you need an assistant, not a bad one to have!

It took 13 years to complete the image. Now you can ask the obvious question, --why?  We have heard of painters who start work on a painting and come back to it years later to finish or rework the picture but this is extremely rare for a photographer and all they can usually do is manipulate the negative or digital image. 

In this case, Sugimoto saw a life size reproduction of Leonardo’s “Last Supper” made in wax at the Izu Museum in Japan and had taken a photograph of it.  This is not an exact reproduction of Leonardo’s work.  We do not see Judas reaching for the bread at the same time as Christ is but we do see looks of consternation and concern on the part of the apostles, each worrying about who among them will betray their master. 

He later stored the huge sheets of one of the edition of 5 in his basement in lower Manhattan.  It is then that god played His hand.  Hurricane Sandy hit.  For the art world it was a disaster, works of art stored just above and below ground were destroyed, not only in private basements but galleries, warehouses and museums, as well.

Hiroshi Sugimoto was born in Tokyo and went to school both in Japan and the United States.  He is truly an international artist who is recognized all over the world.  His bibliography would fill this blog 3 times over.  According to one blurb he manages to blur the lines between photography, painting, installation art and even architecture.  I think that it is this ability that allowed him to patiently watch his work change over many weeks  as it slowly dried.

Instead of discarding the work Sugimoto looked at it and saw that the flood damage gave the picture a dimension it did not have before.  He titled the transformed image “The Last Supper: Acts of God”. One could actually now not just see a photographic reproduction of a reproduction in wax but could somehow feel the tension and foreboding of what was about to happen in the scene depicted.

Thanks to Rebecca Herman I have the formal picture of the entire work,

and a detail of the center figure, Christ.

Other details I took myself. 


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