In the Undermain Theatre’s current, superb production of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, set designer John Arnone has lined the back of the stage with four, large, silvery-grey panels. My heart sank when I saw them. The fear was that director Stan Wojewodski was going to use video projections, jazzing up the rigorous and beautifully spare world of a Beckett play with intrusive, digital media pop-ups.
He doesn’t. In fact, the panels are large-scale versions of — or inspirations from — images by the incredible Japanese photographer, Hiroshi Sugimoto. One of Sugimoto’s specialties are hauntingly minimalist seascapes, like the one above. The four monotone panels in Endgame are a way to bring the dead wasteland outside (that Clov can see only by peering through two small windows) into the room with Hamm and Clov — and us. They at once open up the set — and empty it.
Coincidentally, in the last gallery of Coastlines: Images of Land and Sea, the new exhibition that just opened at the Dallas Museum of Art, there’s a series of, yes, four Sugimoto water photos, including Tyrrhenian Sea.
They could easily fit the Endgame set. As the series proceeds, the images increase in darkness, dissolving coastline and horizon. What had been the exhibition’s distinguishing contrasts — land and sea, man and nature, air and water, light and dark — become barely distinguishable, a beautiful, Rothko-ish abstraction of night and fog.
All of this should be somewhat familiar to North Texans: In 2006-7, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth presented a tremendous solo exhibition of Sugimoto’s work — appropriately titled for the Beckett play, The End of Time — and the museum owns two of the Japanese master’s prints in its permanent collection.