COLLECTING
Thomaï Serdari on Fine Arts & Luxury
Maison Hermès and Hiroshi Sugimoto
Hiroshi Sugimoto. Color gradations. Courtesy of the artist.

Hiroshi Sugimoto. Color gradations. Courtesy of the artist.

The first collaboration between the artist Hiroshi Sugimoto and La Maison Hermès took place in 2003 in Tokyo. There, at the luxury brand’s space, Sugimoto’s exhibit L’Histoire de l’Histoire allowed him to present his work alongside about sixty ancient and medieval Japanese objects and to effectively interject himself into Japan’s history. That type of strong statement acquired additional legitimacy within the institutions that hosted the traveling exhibit: the Japan Society in New York City (2005), the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington DC (2006), the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto (2007), the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco (2007) and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Makazawa (2008). The prestigious roster of institutions enabled Sugimoto to speak of what he likes most, i.e. history and tradition.

Sugimoto’s photographic work has paid homage to the history of the medium itself in his Dioramas (1975), the history of the sea in Seascapes (1980), of death in Chamber of Horrors (1994), of architecture in Architecture (1997), of famous figures in Portraits (1999), and of fashion in Stylized Sculpture (2007). It seems that the artist’s affinity for chronicles and history has become a tradition in his oeuvre, which he continues with extreme technical skill: a handmade wooden 8×10 large format camera which he equips with a variety of commercial lenses (preferably wide-angled) gives him what he then develops by hand using the traditional fiber-based gelatin-silver print technique that was invented in the 1870s.

Furthermore, Sugimoto identifies himself as Japanese despite his relocation to the US at an early age to pursue his photography studies in California in the 1970s. His work develops and remains deeply informed by the two primary Japanese religions, Shinto and Buddhism, more on which I came to know thanks to the work of a former student of mine, Ko Sadakuni, who wrote his thesis on Sugimoto’s connection to Shinto and Buddhism.

It should come as no surprise therefore that La Maison Hermès chooses to work with Sugimoto once again to produce a limited edition of silk scarves. 20 artist’s Polaroids that depict color gradations for print by ink-jet on silk twill will be used to render this small-scale project (only seven of each design will be produced). The outcome will be presented at the Art Basel contemporary art fair in June 2012.

This project seems to be a perfect example of what I would call “luxury arts,” the marrying between luxury goods and contemporary art. Pierre-Alexis Dumas, creative director of Hermès shares Sugimoto’s affinity for history, craftsmanship, and Eastern traditions and religions. With these ingredients in the mix of new creations, the Hermès brand seems to be building successfully on its DNA.

© Thomaï Serdari