Why are Isamu Noguchi’s sculptures & furniture pieces so influential?

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Isamu Noguchi - Red Cube Sculpture, 1968, 140 Broadway Between Cedar and Liberty Streets, Financial District in Lower Manhattan, New York, USA 1
Isamu NoguchiRed Cube Sculpture, 1968, 140 Broadway Between Cedar and Liberty Streets, Financial District in Lower Manhattan, New York, USA
Photo: Gail/worleygig.com

Published on: Friday March 10, 2017

Last updated

Introduction

A walk through Japan reveals the close correlation between nature and aesthetics. Amid the natural setup are works of art that remind everyone about the history, beliefs and affiliations of the Japanese people. The modern art concept of creating spectacular pieces to create an art park is becoming rather common owing to the pioneering work of artists like Isamu Noguchi.

What is Isamu Noguchi famous for?

Having been an artist for 60 years, he has helped shape the aesthetic and cultural appearance of Japan and the US through the creation of sculpture parks. Even in death, Noguchi is still recognized for his artwork on furniture, gardens, ceramics and architecture. Although considered subtle and bold during his time, his work is now the standard for modern and expressionist art.

What inspired him?

Owing to his mixed heritage, Isamu Noguchi was an internationalist and it is during his travels that he picked up the inspiration to express himself in sculptures. His inspiration for large-scale sculpture works with a story actually came from Mexico. He would then incorporate Japanese tranquil garden1 and earthy ceramic setup as well as the Chinese light ink brushing technique2 into his work.

Transitioning from ceramics to stone

While ceramic is extremely defining for the beginning of his life, the second half of his life is mostly about working with granite and basalt. He chose these because they were a lot easier to work on and manipulate, offering a better canvas for Noguchi to showcase his ideas. Stone also was the right material for him. He felt that stone was a primordial matter that talked about life and our society as a whole. Noguchi wanted to use stone as a way to show how time is passing by and how valuable it can really be. And he did everything to ensure that the world was powerful, comprehensive and still full of creativity.

Personal life

Noguchi was married to Yoshiko Yamaguchi, a popular movie star in Japan. He also did work at the Kitaōji Rosanjin Studio3 for quite a while. It was this great location, the focus on vitality and inspiration that made it easy for him to create outstanding ceramic pieces that impress people even today.

Blending Western and Eastern cultures

As one would imagine, what he created from bringing together these different aspects was epic creativity. Once he had settled in his trade, he would maintain studios in New York and Japan, perhaps to declare allegiance to his roots. The works of Isamu Noguchi are evidently aimed at enhancing harmony in human coexistence. The blend of Western and Eastern cultures, modern and traditional life, organic and geometric alignment of nature are some of the efforts Isamu Noguchi made to create tranquility in his work.

Artworks

Coffee table & Akari lamps

Some of his work is still in production today and you can find it in various places all over the world. Yes, most of his pieces are replicas but then again it’s easy to see why. The coffee tables have a triangular glass surface and a wooden base. Vitra also creates his Akari Light Sculptures that come with paper and bamboo lanterns. Noguchi has those amazing playscapes that were very important in the 20th-century design ideas for both the connection to utopian philosophy and impressive design.

Vintage 1950s Isamu Noguchi Coffee Table
Vintage 1950s Isamu Noguchi Coffee Table

Isamu Noguchi - Akari Light Sculpture
Isamu Noguchi – Akari Light Sculpture, light made from washi paper, handcrafted in Japan
Photo: archiproducts/archiproducts.com

Gardens

Noguchi also worked on multiple gardens, the sculpture garden at the Israel Museum and the Japanese Garden for the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris are a great example in this regard.

The Garden of Peace, Unesco Headquarters, Paris
Isamu Noguchi – The Garden of Peace, Unesco Headquarters, Paris
Photo: Unesco/unesco.org

Desert Land in California Scenario, including Water Source
Isamu Noguchi – in California Scenario, including Water Source

Sculptures in public

Isamu Noguchi - Red Cube Sculpture, 1968, 140 Broadway Between Cedar and Liberty Streets, Financial District in Lower Manhattan, New York, USA 2
Isamu NoguchiRed Cube Sculpture, 1968, 140 Broadway Between Cedar and Liberty Streets, Financial District in Lower Manhattan, New York, USA
Photo: Gail/worleygig.com

Isamu Noguchi - Red Cube Sculpture, 1968, 140 Broadway Between Cedar and Liberty Streets, Financial District in Lower Manhattan, New York, USA 3
Isamu NoguchiRed Cube Sculpture, 1968, 140 Broadway Between Cedar and Liberty Streets, Financial District in Lower Manhattan, New York, USA
Photo: Gail/worleygig.com

Isamu Noguchi - Octetra, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, USA
Isamu NoguchiOctetra, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, USA
Photo: One Museum Place/ompatlanta.com

Isamu Noguchi - Skyviewing Sculpture, 1969. The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York, USA
Isamu NoguchiSkyviewing Sculpture, 1969, The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York, USA
Photo: yigruzeltil/wikiart.org


Isamu NoguchiHorace Dodge and Son Memorial Fountain, 1978, Hart Plaza, Detroit, USA

Isamu Noguchi - Horace Dodge and Son Memorial Fountain, 1978, Hart Plaza, Detroit, USA 2
Isamu NoguchiHorace Dodge and Son Memorial Fountain, 1978, Hart Plaza, Detroit, USA

Isamu Noguchi - Tetra Mound, Moerenuma Park, Sapporo, Japan 1
Isamu NoguchiTetra Mound, Moerenuma Park, Sapporo, Japan

Isamu Noguchi - Tetra Mound, Moerenuma Park, Sapporo, Japan 2
Isamu NoguchiTetra Mound, Moerenuma Park, Sapporo, Japan

Isamu Noguchi - Tetra Mound, Moerenuma Park, Sapporo, Japan 3
Isamu NoguchiTetra Mound, Moerenuma Park, Sapporo, Japan

Isamu Noguchi - Intetra, Society of the Four Arts Fountain, 1974-1976
Isamu NoguchiIntetra, 1974-1976, Society of the Four Arts Fountain

Isamu Noguchi - Slide Mantra, 1986, marble, Bayfront Park, Miami, USA
Isamu NoguchiSlide Mantra, 1986, marble, Bayfront Park, Miami, USA

Isamu Noguchi - Black Sun, 1968, Volunteer Park, Seattle, USA
Isamu NoguchiBlack Sun, 1968, Volunteer Park, Seattle, USA

Reliefs

Isamu Noguchi - News, 1938-1940, low-relief panel of stainless steel, 22x17ft, 50 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, USA
Isamu NoguchiNews, 1938-1940, low-relief panel of stainless steel, 22x17ft, 50 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, USA

Isamu Noguchi - Sculpture to Be Seen From Mars, 1947, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C., USA
Isamu NoguchiSculpture to Be Seen From Mars, 1947, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C., USA

Isamu Noguchi - This Tortured Earth
Isamu NoguchiThis Tortured Earth, 1942–1943, bronze, 73.7 x 71.4 x 7.6 cm, cast 1977
Photo: Kevin Noble

Isamu Noguchi - Yellow Landscape, 1943, hydrocale wood elements, string and wood ball
Isamu NoguchiYellow Landscape, 1943, hydrocale wood elements, string and wood ball
Photo: Kevin Noble

Isamu Noguchi - Lunar Landscape, 1943–44, magnesite cement, electric lights, plastic, cork, and string, 88x63x20cm
Isamu NoguchiLunar Landscape, 1943–44, magnesite cement, electric lights, plastic, cork, and string, 88 x 63 x 20 cm, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

Sculptures

Isamu Noguchi - Doorway, 1964, stainless steel
Isamu NoguchiDoorway, 1964, stainless steel

Isamu Noguchi - Strange Bird (To the Sunflower), 1945, bronze, black patina
Isamu NoguchiStrange Bird (To the Sunflower), 1945, bronze, black patina, 5 7/​8 x 21 3/​8 x 20 ¼ in., cast at Tallix 1988

Isamu Noguchi - Untitled (1943), wood and string
Isamu NoguchiUntitled, 1943, wood and string
Photo: Kevin Noble

Isamu Noguchi - Lily Zietz, 1941, plaster
Isamu NoguchiLily Zietz, 1941, plaster, 38.7 × 17.8 × 23.8 cm (15 1/4 × 7 × 9 3/8 in)

Isamu Noguchi - Mother and Child, 1944–47, onyx
Isamu NoguchiMother and Child, 1944–47, Onyx, 49.2 x 32.4 x 21.9 cm (19 3/8 x 12 3/4 x 8 5/8 in)

Isamu Noguchi - Untitled
Isamu NoguchiUntitled

Isamu Noguchi - Variation on a Millstone #5, 1967
Isamu NoguchiVariation on a Millstone #5, 1967

Furniture

Isamu Noguchi - My Mu, 1950
Isamu NoguchiMy Mu, 1950

Isamu Noguchi - Double Red Mountain, 1969
Isamu NoguchiDouble Red Mountain, 1969, Persian red travertine, Japanese pine
Photo: Kevin Noble

Isamu Noguchi - Rare Chess Table, model no. IN-61, circa 1947-1949, laminated bird's-eye maple, painted steel, the top with clear and red acrylic inlays, 49x86x78cm
Isamu NoguchiRare Chess Table, model no. IN-61, circa 1947-1949, laminated bird's-eye maple, painted steel, the top with clear and red acrylic inlays, 49x86x78cm

Isamu Noguchi - Freeform sofa and ottoman, 1946 : 2002, upholstery, birch, Vitra, USA : Germany, 305 x 122 x 74 cm
Isamu NoguchiFreeform sofa and ottoman, 1946 : 2002, upholstery, birch, Vitra, USA : Germany, 305x122x74cm

Isamu Noguchi - Coffee Table, Black Ash, 1944, 40x128x93cm
Isamu NoguchiCoffee Table, Black Ash, 1944, 40x128x93cm

All images: The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York / ARS/noguchi.org unless otherwise noted.

Videos

Isamu Noguchi on Time and Furniture

3min 3sec

Profile of the Noguchi Museum, New York

7min 18sec

Related works

Related readings

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_rock_garden
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ink_wash_painting
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosanjin
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