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Isamu Noguchi: Master Sculptor

October 28, 2004 - January 16, 2005


Marking the centennial of his birth, this fall the Whitney presents Isamu Noguchi: Master Sculptor, a celebration of Noguchi's sculptural achievements. Co-organized by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, the exhibition features many of Noguchi's most innovative sculptures, including some works rarely or never before seen in public. Curated by the Hirshhorn's Valerie Fletcher, the exhibition opens at the Whitney (October 28, 2004-January 16, 2005) before traveling to the Hirshhorn (February 10-May 8, 2005). (right: Isamu Noguchi, Humpty Dumpty, 1946, Ribbon slate; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Photograph by Jerry L. Thompson)

Now recognized as one of the leading innovators of the twentieth century, Noguchi embraced aspects of Asian, American, and European culture in varying ways throughout his life. His resolutely individual approach, drawing on Eastern and Western aesthetics and traditions of craftsmanship, produced sculptures of global impact.

The show highlights the tremendous diversity of forms, ideas, and materials manifested in Noguchi's sculptures. Featuring approximately 60 sculptures and 20 related drawings, Isamu Noguchi: Master Sculptor presents cohesive groupings of works set within a chronological sequence, with special emphasis on sculptures made between 1932 and 1962.

Seeking spiritual expression and material innovation, Noguchi advocated carving in stone and wood, yet throughout his career he experimented endlessly with diverse and unusual materials, including plaster, wood, terracotta, paper, string, magnesite, steel, chrome, bronze, plastic, and electric lights. His sculptures hang on walls, suspend from armatures, repose on the floor, and stand like apparitional figures.

Born to an American mother and a Japanese father, Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) spent most of his early childhood in Japan. As an adolescent, he attended a progressive high school in the United States and became interested in sculpture while an apprentice to a famed portraitist in 1922. After two years at Columbia University, he decided to become a sculptor. During a period in Paris in 1927-28, he became Constantin Brancusi's studio assistant and developed his own style of elegant abstraction based on asymmetrical tensions and the reduction of forms. Early works in Isamu Noguchi: Master Sculptor include three Constructivist sculptures and half-a-dozen gouache studies.

During the Depression, Noguchi planned several visionary public sculptures, including the Monument to Benjamin Franklin, which was finally completed in the early 1980s. The artist's life changed abruptly after the United States entered World War II; seven months in a Japanese-American internment camp inspired him to create landscape-like sculptures alluding to his dreams of escape and his fears of destruction. Isamu Noguchi: Master Sculptor reunites for the first time his surviving Lunar sculptures, glowing evocatively in the dark.

The central anchor for the show is the group of Noguchi's interlocking totems from the mid-1940s, most in their original materials (such as wood and gray slate). In addition to their visual beauty and technical skill, these sculptures reveal obliquely the artist's emotions regarding his own identity in the midst of global war. During the 1950s, Noguchi experimented with iron, ceramics, and light, as he traveled extensively in Asia and worked for months in Japan. From the 1960s to the early 1980s, he carved his sculptures from many kinds of stone to emphasize the inherent beauty and variety of the material, as seen in the final section of the show.

This exhibition is co-organized by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

Major support for Isamu Noguchi: Master Sculptor was provided by Henry Cornell, with additional support from Melva Bucksbaum and Raymond J. Learsy.



In the 240-page catalogue, co-published by Scala, the Whitney and the Hirshhorn, the main essay by Dr. Fletcher situates Noguchi's sculptures in the context of their times, notably his utopian aspirations, his relationship to Surrealism, recurrent sexual themes, and remarkably prescient globalist approach. Additional essays by Dana Miller, Associate Curator at the Whitney, and by Bonnie Rychlak, Curator of the Isamu Noguchi Foundation Museum, address Noguchi's anticipation of earth works and his relationship to Zen.



In addition to the Whitney show, Noguchi's 100th year is being celebrated with the re-opening of The Noguchi Museum's renovated studio and garden in Long Island City. The opening exhibition Isamu Noguchi: Sculptural Design complements the Hirshhorn-Whitney show by focusing on the artist's designs for furniture, stage sets, and plans for public spaces. The subsequent exhibition, Isamu Noguchi and Martha Graham, opens at the Noguchi Museum in November. For additional information, visit www.noguchi.org. The artist's centenary is also being celebrated in Japan with an exhibition of his little-known photographs, which opens at the Kagawa Prefecture Museum on October 24.

TFAO also suggests these DVD or VHS videos:

Isamu Noguchi.(Portrait of an Artist) Follows the twentieth-century Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi around the world for more than a year filming his global artistic adventures. Examines his early life in Japan and his education in the United States which formed a fusion between East and West and fostered the universality of his creative efforts. c1980. 55 min. Video/C 6321 Available from Media Resources Center, Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Isamu Noguchi: Stones and Paper is a 56 minute DVD described by the Japanese American National Museum as follows: "This video appeared in the National Museum's 2004 exhibition Isamu Noguchi and Modern Japanese Ceramics. It is a timeless retrospective on the life and career of Isamu Noguchi, whose bi-national heritage sent him back and forth between Japan and America seeking a new artistic synthesis... He started his career in Paris as Constantin Brancusi's apprentice. He made his name in New York. And, after World War II, he brought a fresh modernist wind to Japan, putting his mark on Japanese ceramics, gardens, and paper lanterns. His late masterworks -- rough stone monoliths that echo both Brancusi and the Zen garden of Ryoanji -- marry East and West in an absolutely original way." Available from Media Resources Center, Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Isamu Noguchi: The Sculpture of Spaces is a 53 minute DVD described by the Japanese American National Museum as follows: "Isamu Noguchi often said that the space around a thing is as important as the thing itself. This classic program shows Noguchi turning landscapes into participatory works of art as it follows in dramatic detail the struggle to bring his ideas to fruition at Miami's Bayfront Park and at Moere Numa Park, outside Sapporo... His austere sets for Martha Graham, which helped define modern dance, and his UNESCO garden in Paris, which shaped earth, water, and greenery into a series of multisensory surprises, are featured as well. A brilliant glimpse of an artist at work."

TFAO does not maintain a lending library of videos or sell videos. Click here for information on how to borrow or purchase copies of VHS videos and DVDs listed in TFAO's Videos -DVD/VHS, an authoritative guide to videos in VHS and DVD format

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rev. 12/27/07

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