Isamu Noguchi

Dates1904 - 1988

Isamu Noguchi regarded his sculptures not as rarefied art objects, but as living forms capable of activating and transforming the spaces they inhabit. Drawing inspiration from ancient forms--from Japanese temples to Native American burial mounds--Noguchi intended for his work to serve an integral role in its physical and spiritual environment.

Noguchi's mother was an American teacher and writer and his father an acclaimed Japanese poet. His mother raised him in Japan before being sending Noguchi alone to attend high school in Indiana. Noguchi moved to New York to attend Columbia University in 1922, but left in 1924 to become a sculptor. In 1927 the young artist went to Paris where he worked as sculptor Constantin Brancusi's studio assistant. Later he traveled to China, Japan, and Mexico.

Returning to New York at the end of 1928, Noguchi began designing plazas, playgrounds, gardens, fountains, and sculpture gardens. He also created portrait busts and dance and theater sets. In 1942, Noguchi voluntarily entered a Japanese-American relocation camp in Arizona for six months. There, he designed a camp recreation area in order to improve the environment for internees, but this project was never realized. Back in New York, Noguchi created a series of mixed-media constructions to articulate his anguish in the face of World War II. By the war's end, a suite of abstract forms executed in marble and slate had established Noguchi's reputation.

Growing fame enabled Noguchi to ambitiously explore what he called "the sculpture of spaces"--working to make sculpture a part of daily life. His furniture designs were mass-produced by the Herman Miller Furniture Company and by Knoll. He created innovative stage sets for avant-garde choreographers including Martha Graham. Synthesizing Eastern and Western influences in a personal aesthetic, Noguchi designed numerous playgrounds, sculpture gardens, and courtyards. He also continued making sculptures and worked with a range of materials including Italian marble and granite, aluminum and bronze. Several years before his death, he opened his Long Island City home and studio to the public, now known as the Noguchi Museum.

Related Works