Installing Henry VIII

May 12, 2009

Yesterday, we installed seven large, lead-framed photographs at LACMA that constitute Hiroshi Sugimoto’s powerful Henry VIII and His Six Wives “portraits.”

When you first enter the dark gallery, you might be confused by what these pictures are—whether they depict actors dressed as Henry and his wives or whether they’re amazingly photorealistic paintings. They are, in fact, photographs of waxworks made by the legendary Madame Tussaud. For each, Sugimoto placed a black velvet cloth behind them and used a 3/4 turned and cropped framing of the “figures” akin to the first portrait photographers in the mid-nineteenth century. In so doing, Sugimoto breathes photographic life into the layers of simulation and equivalence of his historic subjects.


Henry VIII and His Six Wives, 1999
Seven gelatin-silver prints, edition 3/10
Courtesy the artist and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Hiroshi Sugimoto


Catherine of Aragon
Queen of England, 1509–1533


Anne Boleyn
Queen of England, 1533–1536


Jane Seymour
Queen of England, 1536–1537


Anne of Cleves
Queen of England, 1540 (January–July)


Catherine Howard
Queen of England, 1540–1542


Catherine Parr
Queen of England, 1543–1547

I’m so pleased we were able to bring these works to LACMA for the 500th anniversary of Henry’s accession to the English throne (and recommend you check out the wonderful Twitter site, I Am Henry VIII, which sends you bizarrely casual and daily updates from Henry on the build up to his June 24 coronation). To see Henry VIII and His Six Wives installed within this encyclopedic museum is quite amazing, potentially activating our imaginations upon all manner of historic objects and their possible stories.

Charlotte Cotton