Art in the City: Photo Phenoms 

Hiroshi Sugimoto: History of History
Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street

Not your typical retrospective, this eclectic exhibition was curated by Sugimoto and intermingles his photographs with his private collection of artifacts. Beginning with 500 million year-old fossils, Sugimoto’s collection spans the development of life on earth. With elegant, quietly playful displays of antique art objects and Sugimoto’s contemporary works, the show explores the role of art in capturing the transience of time. This loose theme connects not only vastly different objects, but also the works in his oeuvre that previously seemed disconnected — the abstract seascapes, photos of dioramas in natural history museums, and portraits of wax museum figures. Instead of appearing wry and ironic, Sugimoto’s images of museum displays read as sincere elements of his lifelong philosophizing. A few startling pieces combine his photography and antiquity, such as Time’s Arrow, for which Sugimoto embedded one of his seascapes in an ancient Buddhist reliquary. The piece unites two elegant beauties, but also violates the standard treatment of ancient objects. By mish-mashing eras, cultures, and materials, Sugimoto asserts his unconventional approach to understanding the eternal questions of life.

Stephen Shore: American Surfaces
P.S. 1, 22-25 Jackson Ave, Long Island City

Stephen Shore, one of the pioneers of color photography, spent the 1970s roaming across America. For his American Surfaces series, he took thousands of snapshots documenting living rooms with Astroturf, restaurant salads with orange dressing, girls he bedded, and the contents of his toilet. P.S. 1 has mounted over 300 of these 5 x 7 photographs in an impressive array, and together they offer a wry mockery of American life. Shore transgressed the mores of his time with his inclinations toward the abject, and, more importantly, he spurned the conventions of his art. His use of flash, his off-kilter compositions and his awkward camera angles established a whole new aesthetic for photography. One mundane image of a staircase in a house looks like a throwaway, but by keeping it, Shore proved that even a casual snapshot can have an exquisite composition.

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