The exhibition includes nineteen works created more than thirty years ago by Kunié Sugiura and exhibited here for the first time, in which she refuted the “decisive moment” in favor of a reductive statement about the essential nature of the photographic object – an issue that has become especially urgent in recent art and the uses of digital images in contemporary culture.
Sugiura combined her own glossy snapshot-sized photographs of urban architecture, interiors, and suburban landscapes in both color and black & white, with black, white, and gray rectangles of exposed photographic paper, or hand-painted or screen-printed papers in a range of brilliant colors. Assembling diptychs and triptychs which she attached to large sheets of matte rag paper used in fine art lithography or etching, she continued a dialogue on abstraction and representation and the relationship of photography to other mediums that began in the mid-1960s and continues to this day.
In straightforward depictions of places such as a Long Island railroad station, an apartment complex near her Chinatown loft, or extreme close-ups of the late poet Robert Creeley’s desk, contrasted with monochrome fields of exposed gelatin-silver emulsion, she addressed the nature of the medium and what she has described as the “sincere simulation of the photograph … an approximation of reality where the particular becomes universal.”
These works, which precede twenty-five years of experimentation with the photogram process, were made during a period in which the artist also created large-scale pieces constructed of photographs printed on canvas, acrylic paint and wood. They foreshadow later photographic abstractions such as James Welling’s series of “Degrades” begun in the mid-1980s and more recent monochromatic photograms by Liz Deschenes.
Kunié Sugiura was born in Nagoya, Japan in 1942 and raised in Tokyo by her mother who ran a clothing boutique, and her grandmother, a hairstylist for geishas. Like Yayoi Kusama, Yoko Ono, and others who emerged in the postwar years, she left Japan to pursue an artistic career in the West. In the early 1960s she attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she studied photography with Ken Josephson and filmmaking with Gregory Markopoulos, beginning a lifelong pursuit of photographic experimentation. After graduating in 1967, she moved to New York where she continues to live and work, maintaining close ties to her native country where she has exhibited regularly since the 1970s. From 1986 to 2008, Sugiura was the New York correspondent for Bijitsu Techo, Japan’s leading art magazine. A collection of her writings will be published there this fall.
Since the late 1960s, works by Kunié Sugiura have been exhibited at major museums throughout Japan, Europe and the United States and are included in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography; The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, and many other important institutions.
Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects is located on the sixth floor of 535 West 22nd Street, between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.