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Isamu Noguchi’s Biography and the Embodiment of Cosmic Ideas in Sculptural Design

17.11.2021
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Isamu Noguchi works

Isamu Noguchi, a major japanese-american sculptor and designer who became famous for his abstract Noguchi stone sculptures based on both organic and geometric forms. Inspired by traditional Japanese art as well as the biomorphic style of some surrealist works, Isamu Noguchi sculpture has become world-renowned both for his artwork and his publicly available furniture and architecture. His ultimate goal of creating and enhancing public spaces through sculpture gave his biography and career a clear direction and made him a major figure in the world of postwar art, architecture and design.

The Sculptor’s Early Years

isamu noguschi biography

Since Isami Noguchi was born in 1904, his parents returned to Japan.

Isamu Noguchi’s parents met when his mother was hired to work for his father. Noguchi’s father was a young Japanese poet who wrote in English.

At the age of two, Noguchi and his mother moved to Tokyo to live with his father, but in 1910 they left for Omori.

But as early as 1912 in Chigasaki, nine-year-old Noguchi helped build their new home.

In 1913, Noguchi’s father married a second time to another Japanese woman and started his own family, further distancing him from his own son. As for the boy’s education, at age 13, Noguchi’s mother sent him to Interlaken School in Rolling Prairie, Indiana. There he received his basic education.

Education and First Success

After graduating from high school in Indiana, young Isamu Noguchi spent a summer in Connecticut. There he tutored regularly with the son of sculptor Gutzon Borglum.

In return, he received instruction from the future legendary sculptor of Mount Rushmore. The same man repeatedly stated that Noguchi was talentless.

isamu noguchi Education

Noguchi wanted to be an artist from a young age, though. But in 1922 he entered Columbia University as a medical student.

His mother moved to New York in 1924 and still convinced her son to study sculpture at the Leonardo da Vinci School of Art, moving after his dream. That same year, Noguchi left Columbia University to focus entirely on art. Interestingly, he began using his father’s last name, “Noguchi,” rather than his mother’s last name, “Gilmour,” which he had previously used.

His academic figurative sculptures were soon featured in several exhibitions at the Da Vinci School, the National Academy of Design and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

In 1927, Japanese sculptor Isamu Noguchi traveled to Paris on a Guggenheim Fellowship and began working as an assistant to Constantin Brancusi. His exhibitions earlier in the New York gallery had a great influence on the young artist. Teaching Noguchi the methods of direct wood and stone sculpture carving, Brancusi imparted to Noguchi his aesthetics and attitude toward materials. Thanks to Brancusi, Noguchi became interested in the idea of leaving traces of his tools on sculpture to mark a permanent connection between sculptor and material. However, it was not until he left Brancusi’s studio that Noguchi began to create his own sculptures, many of which at first repeated the form, themes and materials of his mentor. Noguchi’s sculptures began as simple geometric forms, but he soon moved on to more organic forms.

In Paris, Noguchi also became a part of an elite community, getting to know artists such as Alexander Calder, Stuart Davis and Jules Paskin.

the most expensive isamu noguchi sculpture

On his return to New York in 1929, when his scholarship expired, japanese-american sculptor had his first solo show at the Eugene Schoen Gallery, which was well received despite the lack of sales. To make money, he returned to the representative portrait sculptures he had begun doing during his academic years, making the busts of such famous artists as George Gershwin, Martha Graham and Buckminster Fuller.

Over the next two years he traveled to Paris, Beijing and finally Japan. In Kyoto he first saw Japanese ceramics and Zen gardens, which greatly influenced many of Isamu Noguchi artworks.

Further Career as a Sculptor

Noguchi moved back to New York City in 1931 and became engaged in the social and labor activism of the 1930s, when he designed worker memorials, public art projects, and political works.

Noguchi Sculptor

In this period, Noguchi also designed sets for dance and theatrical performances, especially for the modern dance choreographer Martha Graham, with whom he collaborated for several decades. He was also very interested in the application of art to the living environment and created suggestions for several outdoor spaces, playgrounds, and other public projects.

After the Japanese invasion of the United States at Pearl Harbor, Noguchi continued his political actions, protesting the internment of 100,000 Japanese Americans.

isamu noguchi playground sculpture

In1942 he voluntarily spent several months in an internment camp in Arizona, although he lived in New York and was not required to be detained. He went there for several months with the goal of improving the lives of the prisoners. Instead, the budget for his projects was cut and his release papers were lost. Noguchi begged to be released and ended up spending a total of seven unfortunate, nonproductive months in the camp.

Around this time, sculptor’s world of Isamu Noguchi also began developing his free standing statuary, many of which were based on the biomorphic forms of Surrealist art. Biomorphism also permeated furniture design, such as his iconic table, which was mass-produced in 1947 and has remained popular to this day. Also in the 1940s, Noguchi began creating light sculptures called “Lunars,” which also used electrical biomorphic forms. His 1951 Akari lamps continued his experiments in using electric light as the key sculptural element. He continued to create such sculptures for the rest of his career and incorporated illumination into several of his public and ecological sculptures. The post-war growth of building in the 1950s and 1960s gave Noguchi the chanceоь to develop many international public projects, many of them focused around gardens.

The Last Years the Death of Isamu Noguchi

Death of Isamu Noguchi

In 1962, Noguchi was artist-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome. Later, still in Italy, he began his marble works, for which he used a special technique involving a metal rod holding the colorful pieces together. Noguchi also began his “Void” series in Italy in 1970.

During the final period of his career, Noguchi continued to create public sculptures, gardens, fountains and playgrounds for international sites. Isamu Noguchi’s later sculptural works were mostly in stone, like water stone, some of which he left unpolished and in their natural state. In 1981 he began designing the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, New York. The museum opened its doors in 1985, three years before his death in New York City in 1988.

Isamu Noguchi Legacy

Noguchi part of the Abstract Expressionist

Although some consider Noguchi part of the Abstract Expressionist movement, his accomplishments and stays abroad directed his individual aesthetic toward a unique blend of Eastern and Western art. As a result, he had a notable influence on later generations of contemporary artists, designers, and architects. Today Noguchi designs and sculptures and his drawings can be found all over the world in museum collections and public spaces or just in Isamu Noguchi garden museum in Japan. His exhibitions feature 73 works by Noguchi and are divided into four sections: “Face,” “Myth and Ethnicity,” “For the Community,” and “The Sun.”

Interesting Facts about Isamu Noguchi Art

  • At the heart of Noguchi’s work, it was his desire to create art that the public could use in ordinary life. He realized this goal through the production of Isamu Noguchi furniture and lamps, theater sets, community projects, his playscapes and fountains.
  • Noguchi wanted to draw attention to the dichotomy. He combined geometric and organic forms, found value in positive and negative space, and created works that challenged the boundaries of design and art.
  • Noguchi incorporated materials and art forms of both his Japanese and American origins into his innovative creations.
  • Noguchi was associated with abstract expressionism. Nevertheless, Noguchi sculpture retained a particular sensitivity in its use of natural materials and an explicit combination of Surrealism and Japanese influences.
  • Kouros Noguchi is one of the sculptor’s most famous works. If we look at Kouros from the right perspective, the first thing we see is the large vertical figure on the right side of the image. It has the most emphasis. But remember that the image is three-dimensional. If you were to go around it and look at it from a different angle, the emphasis might be different.

The Isamu Noguchi “Black Sun” sculpture in Volunteer Park Seattle is unlike any of the master’s creations. This is a large sculpture of Brazilian granite nine feet in diameter. Noguchi envisioned a fluid and timeless work that seemed to move like the sun, creating a kind of dialogue between the real sun and the artwork itself. Some speculate that Soundgarden came up with the title of their hit song “Black Hole Sun” specifically based on the “Black Sun” sculpture in Volunteer Park.

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