The ICC at the ROM Announces Hiroshi Sugimoto: History of History

Renowned artist Sugimoto inaugurates ICC’s new gallery in the
Michael Lee-Chin Crystal on June 2, 2007

The Institute for Contemporary Culture (ICC) at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is pleased to announce Hiroshi Sugimoto: History of History as the inaugural exhibition in its dramatic, new gallery atop the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal. Curated by the internationally acclaimed Japanese contemporary artist Hiroshi Sugimoto, the exhibition takes the visitor on a tour of time and history through more than 50 artworks, including contemporary photographs by Hiroshi Sugimoto, beautiful historical Asian artifacts and unique natural specimens from the artist’s personal collection. Inspired by the ROM’s new architecture, Sugimoto has designed this installation specifically for the ICC Gallery. History of History is co-organized by Japan Society (New York) and the Freer Gallery of Art & Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution (Washington, D.C.), and will be on display from June 2, 2007 to August 19, 2007.

“Mr. Sugimoto’s serene artworks link the historic and the contemporary, a theme that speaks to the ICC’s role within the ROM,” said William Thorsell, ROM Director and CEO. “The ICC’s new space within the Museum’s spectacular Michael Lee-Chin Crystal is nearing completion and will be a dramatic venue for visitors to experience this remarkable exhibition.”

Hiroshi Sugimoto:

Born in Tokyo in 1948, Sugimoto moved to New York City in the 1970s, where he became a dealer and collector of Japanese and East Asian art while working as an artist. Well known for his photography series of seascapes, natural history dioramas and wax museum figures, Sugimoto’s installations reveal his enduring interest in the interconnection between the past and the present. History of History spans millions of years, from fossilized trilobite species, dating to the Cambrian period (500 million years), to stunning views of contemporary seascapes.

One of the most poignant aspects of his work lies in the combination of ancient works or fragments with photographs or other contemporary objects. Sugimoto refers to this in the introduction of the exhibition catalogue History of History: “Contemporary art and ancient art are like oil and water: seemingly opposite poles. Yet for the longest time now, I have found the two melding ineffably together into one, more like water and air. Living with pieces of ancient and medieval art, I have come to feel that I might borrow upon some small increment of their beauty, so as to transplant that power into my own works.”

History of History:

The ICC’s installation of History of History is a direct response by Hiroshi Sugimoto to the ROM’s new Daniel Libeskind-designed addition, specifically the ICC’s new permanent 6,300 square-foot space on Level 4, overlooking Bloor St. West. Within the gallery’s sloping walls and under ceilings reaching 10.5 metres (35-ft.), Sugimoto creates a rich and precisely displayed selection of artworks that is both a conversation between art and architecture, and the present and past – an investigation of how time is perceived and represented.

“We are privileged to have one of the world’s most admired contemporary artists inaugurate our new gallery,” said Kelvin Browne, Managing Director of the ICC. “Making this inauguration particularly memorable is that Sugimoto was inspired by his first visit to the space last year while it was under construction and has revised his exhibition so that it is in ‘conversation’ with the vision of the building’s lead architect Daniel Libeskind. As well, he’s created new work especially for this show.”

One of many starting points for the visitor to experience History of History is at the tip of a 4.6 m (15 ft.) high wall, curving through the centre of the ICC Gallery. On one side are nine cases, featuring 13th to 18th century Asian hanging scrolls, works on paper and silk, mandala and sutra. Among the historic prints is a contemporary lithograph mounted on a scroll of the famous waterfalls located in Nikko, Japan, Kegon Water Falls (2005). Forming a semi-circle across from the scrolls are 11 Japanese ritual objects, including religious reliquaries, clay and bronze and wood sculptures and mounted figures. Among the oldest is a mid-Jomon Period (50th-40th centuries BC) cross-shaped Clay Figure. Also on display is a Tempyo Period (8th century) Miniature Pagoda, originally containing what are said to be the oldest printed texts in Japan. One million of these miniature pagodas were made, of which 45,000 survive today.

This section also contains a series of works combining an ancient artifact with a contemporary image. The juxtapositions add a new dimension to the photography, which the artist has described as “time exposed.” In Morning Sun Illumes the Waves (1999), a 1920s-30s Tiffany & Co. makeup case contains a 1980 photograph of the Japan Sea on one side and a 1999 image of Emperor Hirohito on the other. In Time’s Arrow (1987), a 13th century fragment of a bronze Buddhist reliquary in the shape of a hoju, originally used for holding Buddha’s ashes, now frames one of Sugimoto’s 1980 seascapes.

For more than 25 years, Sugimoto has traveled throughout the world photographing the sea devoid of human incident. A series of seven of these large-format gelatin prints of seascapes, photographed with low sensitivity film and an 8 in. x 10 in. view camera designed expressly for him, are featured on the other side of the curved wall. At first glance, the photographs, such as Lake Superior (1995) and Boden Sea (1993), capture a nearly symmetrical view of the sea. However, a closer inspection reveals subtle differences in tonality, horizon line and atmospheric conditions. Sugimoto has discussed these seascapes in terms of a distant human past that endures in the process of contemplation: “In the Seascapes, I was thinking about the earliest experiences of mankind, about the time when the first people named the world around them, and named the sea.”

Facing these photographs, Sugimoto has placed Treasures Pagoda with Seaview Crystal Ball (2003). Within the 13th century pagoda sits a crystal ball resting on a plastic lotus dais; a reflection of the seascape Caribbean Sea, Jamaica (1980) can be seen on these contemporary pieces. This artwork may have been modeled after a Buddhist painting at the Fujita Museum of Art, depicting the monk Ryumo receiving a scroll of the Diamond Peak Sutra from within a great iron pagoda in southern India. At the west side of the gallery, Sugimoto has positioned a series of six 13th to 16th century wood masks, demonstrating the unpolished style of a time before the sophisticated medieval Noh masks used in the classical Japanese musical drama.

A series of elegant prehistoric plant and animal fossils and geological specimens are also on display, a recent addition to Sugimoto’s installation. When he began photographing undersea dioramas of the Devonian period (350 million years ago), it occurred to him that the trilobites, squids, and sea lilies had all been re-imagined from their fossils. He noted, “by photographing these fossils in turn, I was making another set of fossils. I came to realize that photography is a process of making fossils out of the present.”

In this section, Sugimoto again combines the prehistoric with contemporary. In Testament of a Penis (2003), a 117cm (46 in.) long stone rod from Japan’s Jomon period (10,000-400 BC) is displayed on a 1950s hospital gurney. In Sterilized Life (2003), a collection of jade, jasper, rock crystal, agate and amber magatama beads, used as adornment or ritual amulets during Japan’s Kofun period, is displayed in a 1950s medical sterilizer. Visitors can view close to 20 fossilized specimens here, including a Sea Lily Colony, weighing over 360 kg (800 lbs). By adding layers of natural history to the exhibition, Sugimoto emphasizes nature’s artful recording of its own changes.

Outside the ICC Gallery, a relatively new work by Sugimoto, a gelatin-silver print of Queen Elizabeth II (1999) will be on display in the Hyacinth Gloria Chen Crystal Court, the four-storey atrium on Level 1 the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal. Traditionally, public buildings in Canada, such as museums, used to feature portraits of the monarch in their lobbies. Here, it is placed in the ROM’s new lobby and the site of the former Queen Elizabeth II Terrace Galleries.

Sugimoto has exhibited his artworks internationally and his photographs are presented in the world’s leading collections of contemporary photography and art. History of History was first developed for the Maison Hermès (Tokyo, 2003) and recently augmented and remounted at Japan Society (New York, 2005-2006) and the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution (Washington, 2006). The ICC’s engagement of History of History is generously supported by the Hal Jackman Foundation. After the ROM, the exhibition travels to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco in Fall 2007.

Other information:

On Thursday, May 31, 2007, the ICC celebrates its new gallery and the opening of this exhibition with an evening discussion between the artist Hiroshi Sugimoto and Daniel Libeskind, lead architect for Renaissance ROM, the Museum’s expansion and restoration project. Hiroshi Sugimoto-Daniel Libeskind: A Conversation is a free event (reserved seating only) and will take place in the Signy and Cléophée Eaton Theatre. Following this event, the ICC will unveil its new gallery during a ticketed fundraising event, where guests will have a private viewing of History of History. More details will be announced in Spring 2007.

The opening of History of History is part of the Architectural Opening & Building Dedication of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal on June 2, 2007. In addition to a graceful new entrance and lobby, the ROM Museum Shore, restaurants and special events spaces, the new Garfield Weston Exhibition Hall, Canada’s largest exhibition hall, will host Drama and Desire: Japanese Paintings from the Floating World, 1690 – 1850. On display from June 2, 2007 to August 12, 2007 on Level 2B, the exhibition features Japanese ukiyo-e paintings from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. More details on the public opening events will be announced in Spring 2007.

Both History of History and Drama and Desire complement the ROM's longstanding commitment to presenting Asian art and architecture. In December 2005, as part of the Museum’s expansion and restoration project, the ROM opened a new wing for East Asian art and archaeology on Level 1 of its historic buildings. The expanded and redesigned galleries include: Prince Takamado Gallery of Japan, Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Gallery of China, Bishop White Gallery of Chinese Temple Art, Matthews Family Court of Chinese Sculpture, ROM Gallery of Chinese Architecture and Gallery of Korea.

The best way to experience these and future exhibitions, galleries and opening events for the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal is through Membership. A ROM membership delivers numerous benefits, including free general admission, newsletters, events, previews, and much more. In addition, members can join Friends of ICC and experience contemporary culture from a unique ROM perspective. For more information, please call 416.586.5700 or visit

About the Institute for Contemporary Culture

The ROM’s Institute for Contemporary Culture plays a vital role in a museum whose collections embrace many civilizations, as well as the record of nature through countless ages. In the context of the ROM’s lively documentation of history, the ICC explores current cultural issues through the exhibitions of art and architecture, lectures, film series, and informal gatherings.

The ICC provides a unique forum where the new encounters the historical and anthropological. It explores both the continuity and discontinuity of cultures—their relationships across space and time, to each other and to the natural world. The ROM’s collections provide context and depth to contemporary issues addressed by artists, architects, and participants in ICC events from around the world. For further information, please visit the ICC website at

Hiroshi Sugimoto: History of History

June 2, 2007 to August 19, 2007

Exhibit Patron: Hal Jackman Foundation