Friday, April 2, 2010

Designer of the Month: Isamu Noguchi

Eliot Elisofon, Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi in his workshop, 1946. Courtesy of LIFE Magazine.

I am excited to let you all know that April's Designer of the Month is the sculptor and designer Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988), who you can see in the above image, in his studio. Noguchi was born in Los Angeles to the American writer Leonie Gilmour and the Japanese poet Yonejiro (Yone) Noguchi.[1] His childhood was spent primarily in Japan, but his mom sent him back to the US, to a school in Indiana, when he was 13, and continued his schooling as a pre-med student at Columbia University in New York.[2] It was during his college years at Columbia that Noguchi was encouraged to take art classes, enrolling in an evening sculpture class with Onorio Ruotolo at the Leonardo Da Vinci Art School, where he achieved immediate success with his figurative sculpture.[3] As Noguchi explains about the Da Vinci Art School and his first foray into sculpture:
The director, Onorio Ruotolo, spotted me and asked, 'Wouldn't you like to study here?' I said I wasn't interested in sculpture. Finally I copied a plaster foot, whereupon I was offered a scholarship. I began attending evening school but then announced that I couldn't go on because I had a job and also went to college. Ruotolo suggested that I should work for him and give up the restaurant job, and he would pay me the equivalent. How could I resist? I became a sculptor, even against my will.[4]

But Noguchi's life really changed during his first real encounter with abstract sculpture, at an exhibition of Constantin Brancusi's work; with his aspirations set, Noguchi successfully applied for a Guggenheim Fellowship to study sculpture in Paris, promptly establishing himself as Brancusi's assistant.[5] It was through Brancusi that Noguchi would learn wood and stone carving, skills that he would utilize in some of his most well-known work.[6]

Isamu Noguchi, Chess Table, 1947. Ebonized plywood, cast aluminum, plastic insets. Courtesy of The Noguchi Museum.

While he was a frequent traveller, Noguchi spent most of his time in New York, and if you're ever in the area, I highly recommend stopping by The Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, Queens. Located in an old factory building, Noguchi created the museum in 1985 as a way to house a comprehensive collection of his work and archives, and it's a wonderful place to spend an afternoon.

Isamu Noguchi, Heaven (Tengoku) Sogetsu Interior Garden, Japan, 1977. Balsa wood model. Courtesy of The Noguchi Museum.

Noguchi is one of those artists whose work you look at in amazement because you just can't believe that one guy managed to do so much during his lifetime. While he's primarily known as a sculptor, Noguchi also designed furniture, fountains, playgrounds, gardens, public monuments, memorials, and theater sets, and all of those designs are what we're going to be focusing on for these next four weeks. That's right folks, instead of our customary 4 weeks worth of discussion, we're taking advantage of the 5 Fridays in April to look at as much of Noguchi's work as possible. We'll focus on his sculpture, furniture and interior design next week, week 3 will be a look at his gardens and playgrounds, we'll jump on over to monuments and memorials in week 4, and finish up with his drawings and designs for dance and theater sets in week 5. Phew! It's going to be a lot, but it should be a fun time. So start getting excited, and I'll see you all next week.

Isamu Noguchi, Jack in the Box, 1984. hot-dipped galvanized steel. Courtesy of The Noguchi Museum.

[1] The Noguchi Museum online, "Chronology," (accessed March 30, 2010).

[2] Isamu Noguchi, A Sculptor's World, "A Sculptor's World," (New York: Harper & Row Publishers Inc., 2004), 13, 15.

[3] Ibid., 15.

[4] Ibid., 15.

[5] The Noguchi Museum online, "Paris and Brancusi," (accessed March 30, 2010).

[6] Ibid.

1 comment:

  1. Since beginning this journal in 2004, it has become increasingly clear the enormous impact on Isamu Noguchi of his growing up for four years as a typical Hoosier teenager in LaPorte, Indiana, going to and graduating from its public High School. These little known years of the child becoming a young man shaped the spirit and the genius of this future world-famed artist. Noguchi’s formidable Indiana teenage experiences become an explosive note in American Arts history. --Glenn Ralston

    “I am a Hoosier too” Noguchi said.


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