The Tent of Holofernes
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© The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum
Gift of Fran and Ray Stark

Isamu Noguchi
American, designed 1950, cast 1978
108 x 109 x 54 in., 424 lb.

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Four rigid bronze forms create a skeletal tent. Two interlocking diagonal beams serve as the tent's opening. These beams, as well as a third vertical form, have pointed tops suggestive of spears. Positioned on top of these beams, a single horizontal beam demarcates the tent's top edge. This snake-like form also insinuates violence: its gaping mouth, sharp fangs, and bulging eyes suggest that within the tent lies danger.

Isamu Noguchi originally created this form as a stage set for choreographer and dancer Martha Graham's 1950 production Judith . This sculpture is one of three bronze casts made from the balsawood original that appeared on stage. Graham's Judith was based on the biblical story of Judith and Holofernes. The widow Judith seduced and then decapitated the general Holofernes who was laying siege to her hometown. Noguchi's sculpture alludes to the tent in which Judith beheads Holofernes. The tent's phallic spears convey Holofernes' desire for Judith; the serpent form, the peril awaiting the doomed general.

Noguchi created stage sets throughout his career. When working on a scenic design, he would often arrange the elements on a miniature stage. This allowed him to play with the formal and spatial relationships between the objects. Noguchi desired his three-dimensional forms to animate space and positively alter the viewer's experience of the environment.