Tokihiro Sato, Trees @Tonkonow

JTF (just the facts): A total of 15 black and white images, hung in the entry hallway, main gallery space, and office area. All of the works are gelatin silver prints, made between 2008 and 2009. The prints come in three sizes: 62×51 (in editions of 3), 47×38 (in editions of 12), and 24×20 (in editions of 12). 9 of the largest size prints are on display in the show, mounted but not framed, and clipped to the walls. Also on view are 6 of the smallest size, framed in white and matted. A thin catalog of the exhibit is available from the gallery for $10. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Tokihiro Sato’s images of the stately trunks of Japanese beech trees amid the undergrowth of the forest operate on several different levels, proof that there are still original ways to take on a subject as traditional as the grandeur of nature in the wild. Sato’s frontal tree portraits sparkle with unexpected pinpricks of light, clusters of bright dots mysteriously hovering around the base of each tree.
For the process minded, Sato’s works have plenty of technical complexity. Using an 8×10 view camera, he makes long exposures (measured in hours), intermittently moving into the frame with a mirror, aiming vectors of sunlight back at the camera lens; the result are various points of light, made by an invisible photographer.
For those with a conceptual bent, these works seem to tie back to the Land Art movement of the 1970s, or to more ephemeral examples of similar ideas from artists like Andy Goldsworthy. Sato’s gestures with light are like those of a surveyor, using light to measure and define the natural space; he calls the process “photo-respiration”.
And for those with a sense of whimsy, Sato’s lights become fireflies and fairies, or ethereal ghosts from Latin American magical realism. The difference in luminescence between the textured grey of the trees and roots and the sharp light of the pinpricks is so strong that the lights seem to literally jump off the paper, drawing all the attention to the movement and excitement they capture.

Overall, I found these images be quietly elegant and serene without being boring or gimmicky, mixing the straight and the conceptual with a deft hand.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced based on size. The largest prints (62×51) are $18000 each, the middle (47×38) are $14000 each, and the smallest (24×20) are $5000 each. Sato’s prints have not yet reached the mainstream secondary markets, so gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:

  • Profile: Japan Exposures (here)
  • Review: NY Times, 1998 (here)

Tokihiro Sato
Through May 8th

Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects
535 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011

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JTF (just the facts): Published in 2019 by MASA/FUAM (here). Hardcover, 17.5×23 cm, 148 pages, with 128 black and white reproductions. Includes an essay by David Campany, a short poem ... Read on.

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