“The art of stone in a Japanese garden is that of placement. Its ideal does not deviate from that of nature. But I am also a sculptor of the West. I place my mark and do not hide.”
- Isamu Noguchi

Considering the rather strident dualities in the personal life of Isamu Noguchi, his work is remarkably pure, centred and whole. It is – from personal expression to elegant form – the very definition of modern. The Noguchi Museum illustrates in a 2010 exhibition, entitled “On Becoming an Artist: Isamu Noguchi and His Contemporaries, 1922–1960”, the context in which his modernist approach developed and flourished.

An earlier 2010 exhibition held at The Basil & Elise Goulandris Foundation in Greece, entitled “Isamu Noguchi: Between East and West”, highlighted the artist’s more personal experience, being of dual ancestry as well as working in an era of political tension between the U.S and Japan. Born in Los Angeles, Noguchi spent more than ten years of his childhood moving throughout Japan with his American mother, estranged from his Japanese father, a poet, before returning to the U. S. to then graduate from an Indiana high school and study sculpture in New York. Though thriving largely from his New York studio, Noguchi’s nomadic early years governed his extensive travel later on to Mexico, China, Japan and Italy, his internationalist approach to his work, and his creative collaborations with individuals across his various travels.

Throughout the course of his career, Noguchi’s experimentations and collaborations produced sculpture, gardens, furniture, lighting and interior designs, ceramics, architecture and set designs, as well as public works across the United States, Europe and Asia, such as a 1951 commission for Hiroshima’s Peace Park. Noguchi’s style is both subtle and bold, matching skill and ingenuity with natural materials in the Japanese tradition.

While his modernist aesthetic was cultivated by life in New York, a 1926 acquaintance with Constantin Brancusi’s sculpture marked the real turning point in his career. He spent two years abroad on a Guggenheim Fellowship, working as an assistant at the Brancusi studio in Paris for part of that time. This apprenticeship proved deeply influential in his grasp and later use of abstraction. Ancient Greek sculpture also decisively influenced his work, as well as Surrealist biomorphism, and calligraphy, though Noguchi never aligned himself with a specific art movement. His practice assimilated many different methods and materials, such as steel and marble, iron, wood and bronze, aluminum, basalt and granite. Creative collaborations include those with stone carver Masatoshi Izumi, the architects Gordon Bunshaft and Louis Kahn, designer and inventor Buckminster Fuller, and the Japanese designer Isamu Kenmochi.

“On Becoming an Artist” is organized by discipline, moving from sculpture and painting to works for the theatre, to furniture, and finally architecture. Within these sections, artworks, photographs, documentary materials, and ephemera will combine to provide salient portraits of all of Noguchi’s seminal relationships with additional figures such as artists Alexander Calder, Arshile Gorky, Frida Kahlo and architect Richard Neutra; dancers and choreographers Martha Graham, Erick Hawkins, and Merce Cunningham, among many others both famous and less well-known, galleries and commercial enterprises. His stage designs for avant-garde dance performances are unparalleled in the history of modern dance, particularly those produced during his long collaborative relationship with Martha Graham starting in1935.

Founded and designed in 1985 by Isamu Noguchi himself, The Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, in New York, celebrates his works posthumously. Occupying a renovated industrial building dating from the 1920s, The Noguchi Museum comprises ten indoor galleries and an exceptional outdoor sculpture garden. It offers a rich, contextualized view of his work and illuminates an innovative and influential legacy. Isamu Noguchi’s sculpture and designs altogether contributed immensely to 20th century creation – and his personal journey was the very force behind their timeless form.

More info:

On Becoming an Artist: Isamu Noguchi and His Contemporaries, 1922-1960
November 17th, 2010 through April 24th, 2011
The Noguchi Museum
9-01 33rd Rd. Queens, NY 11106
T. +1 718-204-7088