Now and Then: Hiroshi Sugimoto and Marcel Duchamp

How can artists from two different eras—a technical Japanese master and a French rebel known for eliminating any traces of conventional art-making—be bound together by time?

In 1912, when Marcel Duchamp painted Nu Descendant un Escalier (Nude Descending a Staircase), a series of successive movements layered on one another, the artist offended European cubists and shocked American realists. Decades later, photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto would say, “That’s the presentation of the concept of time and movement…that’s how I link the history of painting and photography together.”

In the mid-1970s, before earning notability for his own work—long-exposure photographs that capture several hours in movie theaters and at sea—Sugimoto encountered Duchamp’s 1923 work The Large Glass. Glass, made of cracked window panes, lead, wire, and dust, was felt only subconsciously for years before Sugimoto realized its enigmatic power.

He then referenced it directly with La Boîte en Bois (The Wooden Box), featuring a replica-of-a-third-generation-replica of The Large Glass, and a winking title to Boîte-en-valise (Box in a Valise), Duchamp’s own re-packaging of past artworks. In doing so, Sugimoto reintroduced the idea of time, through his photography, to the Duchampian elements that shaped him—existing objects, copies, and four-dimensional art experiences—and explicitly linked photography with Duchamp’s revolutionary “readymades.”

“Photography is like a found object,” Sugimoto said. “A photographer never makes an actual subject; they just steal the image from the world.”

Explore In Focus: Japan on Artsy.

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