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NOGUCHI, A life behind the light

Updated: Nov 17, 2021


Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

NEW NATURE, Room 10, Lower Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



"NOGUCHI", the first European touring retrospective in 20 years of American-Japanese Artist Isamu Noguchi. An interactive installation at the Barbican Centre granting us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in his work and life journey, until Sunday 9th January 2022.



It is a rare coincidence that behind a prolific artistic legacy there is a life full of emotional challenges that fuelled that creation. Just as lust drives the most basic human behaviours, the mind of an artist has its own masters, sensibility and imagination.


Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

SKIN AND BONES, Room 7, Upper Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



The life of Isamu Noguchi occurs during perhaps what I consider the most accelerated century in terms of humanity's "progress", the 20th century. From the 'Belle Epoque' to the genesis of the digital age.



Noguchi at Barbican Arts & Design

NEW NATURE, Room 10, Lower Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



With two world wars, the Great Depression, the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, landing on the moon, and rebuilding the values of a post war society, Noguchi experienced and overcame the absence of his father, discouragement as an artist, project rejections, identity search and financial struggle. Later surrounded and supported by talented and resourceful people, he managed to produce a heritage that describes and delivers what our current society really needs; education to grow in beauty and protect the earth using a language that does not need translation, the language of art.



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Chess Pieces, 1944 (Reproduction pieces 2006) and Chess Table, 1944 (Ebonised plywood, cast aluminum, plastic insets).

LANDSCAPE OF THE MIND, Room 6, Upper Gallery Corridor. ©Andrés Landino



Noguchi was born in Los Angeles on 17th November 1904. His father was a Japanese poet, Yonejirō Noguchi, and his mother, an Irish-American writer, Léonie Gilmour.


He was raised primarily by his mother in Japan, who encouraged him to garden and learn carpentry as a child.


In 1918 he was sent back to America to attend high school, and after graduating he worked as an apprentice for the American Sculptor Gutzon Borglum who tried to dissuade Noguchi of pursuing a career in arts saying that he would never be a sculptor ...



Noguchi at Barbican Arts & Design

Slide Mantra Maquette, c. 1985, Botticino marble and Akari 95EN, by 1970 Washi paper, bamboo, metal, electrics.

EARTH, Room 9, Lower Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



For a couple of years and despite his passion for the arts, he enrolled at Columbia University to study pre-medicine in 1922. Bone connection and body shapes would be evoked in his later interlocking and biomorphic sculptures.


Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design Mitosis

Mitosis, 1962 Bronze, gold patina.

EXPANDING UNIVERSE, Room 3, Upper Gallery ©Andrés Landino



Noguchi at Barbican Arts & Design

Endless Coupling, 1957 Iron.

I BECAME A SCULPTOR, Room 1, Upper Gallery. ©Andrés Landino


His mother moved to New York in 1923 and convinced him to enrol in the Leonardo Da Vinci School of Art in 1924. A few months later he had his first exhibition and dropped out of Columbia University to embark full-time in the art of sculpture, changing his name from Sam Gilmour to Isamu Noguchi ...



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Boy Looking through Legs (Morning Exercises), 1933. Pear wood, blue beads.

SCULPTING SPACE, Room 2, Upper Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



Noguchi began his career producing bust portraits. This was the way he stood for a long time even during periods of struggle.



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Tsuneko–san, (Head of Japanese Girl), 1931 (cast c. 1933). Bronze

SCULPTING SPACE, Room 2, Upper Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Tara Pandit, c. 1947 Bronze.

SCULPTING SPACE, Room 2, Upper Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



With a grant from the Guggenheim Fellowship, he travelled to Paris in 1927. He mixed with the greatest artists of the time such as Alexander Calder and Jules Pascin, exposing himself to the boom of surrealism and abstract art.



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Yellow Landscape, 1943 (reconstructed 1995). Magnesite, wood, string, metal fishing weight

LUNAR, Room 5, Upper Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



He also worked as an assistant to one of the most influential sculptors of the 20th century and a pioneer of modernism, Constantin Brâncusi.



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Paris Abstractions, 1928 Gouache on paper.

I BECAME A SCULPTOR, Room 1, Upper Gallery. ©Andrés Landino


Back in New York in 1929, he exhibited his abstract sculptures made in Paris, but none of them were sold.



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Leda, 1928 (fabricated 1985) Brass.

I BECAME A SCULPTOR, Room 1, Upper Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Positional Shape, 1928 Brass, gold plate.

I BECAME A SCULPTOR, Room 1, Upper Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



He returns to produce portrait bust to earn his living and keep travelling. From Paris to London, Moscow, Beijing, Tokyo and Kyoto.



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

R. Buckminster Fuller, 1929 Bronze, chrome plate (Collection Alexandra Snyder–May).

EXPANDING UNIVERSE, Room 3, Upper Gallery . ©Andrés Landino



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

José Clemente Orozco, 1931 Terracotta

SCULPTING SPACE, Room 2, Upper Gallery Corridor. ©Andrés Landino



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Suzanne Ziegler, 1932 Wood .

SCULPTING SPACE, Room 2, Upper Gallery Corridor. ©Andrés Landino



He studied brush painting in China and pottery in Japan, where he visited the Zen gardens in 1930. He concluded, "all Japanese art has its roots in China."



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Peking Brush Drawing (Baby with String), 1930. Ink on paper.

SCULPTING SPACE, Room 2, Upper Gallery Corridor. ©Andrés Landino



After the death of his mother in 1933, Noguchi began to submit his designs for public spaces and monuments but with no success.



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Play Mountain, 1933 (cast 1977) Bronze.

SCULPTING SPACE, Room 2, Upper Gallery Corridor. ©Andrés Landino



Returning to portrait sculpture, he defied critics with his piece 'Death', inspired by the lynching of George Hughes in 1930. The shocking reaction of the press earned him the qualification of 'semi oriental' and 'a little Japanese mistake' for the piece.



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Death (Lynched Figure), 1934. Monel metal, steel, wood and rope.

POLITICAL CONSCIENCE, Room 4, Upper Gallery. ©Photograph by Berenice Abbott


This event changed the direction of Noguchi's career. He stopped exhibiting in galleries and began to design sets for the American modern dancer Martha Graham.


American ballerina and choreographer Ruth Page premiered a dance inspired on his sculpture "Miss Expanding Universe" in 1932, in a jersey sack costume designed by him and his half-sister, Ailes Gilmour.



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Miss Expanding Universe, 1932 (Steel cast, 2021).

EXPANDING UNIVERSE, Room 3, Upper Gallery . ©Andrés Landino



His devotion to travel led him to Hollywood and then to Mexico where he was chosen to design his first public piece, a relief mural for Abelardo Rodríguez's market in Mexico City, an anti-fascist work entitled 'History Mexico'. During this time, he met Frida Khalo and remained a close friend until her death.



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

History Mexico, 1936 Concrete and pigmented cement POLITICAL CONSCIENCE, Room 4, Upper Gallery. ©Photograph by Rafael Gamo.


Back in New York in 1937, Noguchi designed the Zenith Radio Nurse, the first baby monitor.



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Radio Nurse and Guardian Ear, 1937 Bakelite (Manufactured by Zenith Radio Corp.)

EXPANDING UNIVERSE, Room 3, Upper Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



His original coffee table sculpture was designed for Anson Conger Goodyear in 1939, the first president of the Museum of Modern Art. It became one of his most emblematic pieces of furniture that remains in production today.


Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Coffee Table, 1944 (manufactured 1947–1973, 1984–present) Wood, plate glass.

NEW NATURE, Room 10, Lower Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



After the attack of Pearl Harbor on 7th December 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the relocation and incarceration of all people with Japanese ancestry living in the west coast of the United States.


He formed "Nisei Writers and Artists for Democracy" movement in hopes to halt the incarceration of American Japanese in concentration camps. This event allowed him to expand his imagination as an architect. He moved to Poston Camp as a voluntary internee and tried to improve the environment for inmates in 1942. He planned recreational areas for the camp such as parks, baseball fields, swimming pools and a cemetery. Unfortunately, he was considered an outsider, a rowdy intruder and a spy, and couldn't see any of his projects materialise. Sadly, he found nothing in common with the ‘Nisei’ (American-born Japanese, 'second generation') and with many difficulties he managed to scape the camp never to return.



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

A reconstruction of Isamu Noguchi’s Plan for Park and Recreation Areas at Poston, Arizona, 1942.

POLITICAL CONSCIENCE, Room 4, Upper Gallery.



Noguchi at Barbican Arts & Design

My Arizona, 1943 (reconstructed by artist 1978) Fibreglass, Plexiglas

POLITICAL CONSCIENCE, Room 4, Upper Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



In 1943, he opens a new studio at 33 MacDougal Alley, Greenwich Village, New York, and produced his first collection of illuminated and mixed media sculptures and a series of 'biomorphic' interlocking slab sculptures.



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Lunar Infant, 1944 Magnesite, wood, electric components.

POLITICAL CONSCIENCE, Room 4, Upper Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Lunar Landscape (Woman), 1944 Magnesite, electric components (The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia).

POLITICAL CONSCIENCE, Room 4, Upper Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Trinity, Triple, 1945 (cast 1974) Bronze.

NEW NATURE, Room 10, Lower Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Humpty Dumpty, 1946. Ribbon slate, (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase 47.7a-e) and Remembrance, 1944 Mahogany.

SKIN AND BONES, Room 7, Upper Gallery. ©Andrés Landino


He produced numerous costume and stage designs for Martha Graham and many other notable choreographers.



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Set elements for Martha Graham’s Cave of the Heart: Spider Dress and Serpent, 1946 (fabricated 1983). Brass wire, bronze and E=MC2, 1944 Papier-mâché.

EXPANDING UNIVERSE, Room 3, Upper Gallery . ©Andrés Landino



Herman Miller Furniture began commercially producing Noguchi's sculptural coffee table in 1947, developing a fruitful relationship for the manufacture of his designs.



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Ottoman, 1946–2021

CITIZEN OF THE EARTH, Room 12, Lower Gallery. ©Andrés Landino


Possibly triggered by the suicide of his friend Arshyle Gorky in 1948 and a failed romantic relationship, he applied for a scholarship at the Bolleingen Foundation to travel the world and do research for a proposed book, "The Study of Leisure" which he never finished.



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Akari 1A, 1954, Akari UF3–H, 1984 and Akari E, 1954, Washi paper, bamboo, metal, electrics,

EARTH, Room 9, Lower Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



Noguchi at Barbican Arts & Design

NEW NATURE, Room 10, Lower Gallery. ©Andrés Landino


Noguchi at Barbican Arts & Design

NEW NATURE, Room 10, Lower Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



He spent almost seven years travelling the world. He shared time in Paris with Brancusi, Le Corbusier, Léger, Breton and Giacometti. He visited many places like the Acropolis in Greece, the Palace of Knossos in Crete, the Taj Majal in India, the Pyramids in Egypt. He returned to Japan after two decades of absence to establish a new home.



Noguchi at Barbican Arts & Design

EARTH, Room 9 and NEW NATURE, Room 10, Lower Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



He submitted his design for a cenotaph in the Tange Peace Park in Hiroshima in 1952. It reflected his radical repudiation of atomic bombs. The plan "Monument to the Dead of Hiroshima" was rejected, probably for political reasons. However, the side railings of the two bridges that connect the island where the park is located, were designed by Noguchi and still stand today. They were built before the presentation of his design for the cenotaph. He called the side rail for east bridge "to live" and for the west bridge "to die." Subsequently, they were renamed "to build" and "to depart".



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Memorial to the Dead, Hiroshima, c. 1982 Brazilian granite, stainless steel, wood. Designed in 1952

GRAVITY, Room 8, Upper Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Bell Tower for Hiroshima, 1950. Replica partially reconstructed 1986. Terracotta, wood.

GRAVITY, Room 8, Upper Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



He began to design his Akari light sculptures in 1951 to be sold in Japan in 1952 and in the U.S. in 1953, trademarked "Akari Lamps by Isamu Noguchi". "Akari", a term meaning light as illumination in Japanese.



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Akari 120A,c.1956/c.1963 Washi paper, bamboo, metal, electrics.

LANDSCAPE OF THE MIND, Room 6, Upper Gallery Corridor. ©Andrés Landino



Noguchi at Barbican Arts & Design

Akari 120A,c.1956/c.1963 Washi paper, bamboo, metal, electrics, Double Red Mountain, 1969 Persian travertine and Time Lock, 1944–45 Languedoc marble.

LANDSCAPE OF THE MIND, Room 6, Upper Gallery Corridor. ©Andrés Landino


Noguchi at Barbican Arts & Design

Akari 1A, 1954,

EARTH, Room 9, Lower Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



Noguchi at Barbican Arts & Design

Akari 23N, 1986 Washi paper, bamboo, metal, electrics.

NEW NATURE, Room 10, Lower Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



Noguchi at Barbican Arts & Design

Akari 24N, 1968 and Akari 25N, 1968 Washi paper, bamboo, metal, electrics.

NEW NATURE, Room 10, Lower Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



Noguchi at Barbican Arts & Design

Akari UF3–Q, 1984, Akari 1AV, 1954, Akari 1AY, 1954 / 1955, Akari 1AT, 1954 / by 1969 and Akari UF1–O, 1984 Washi paper, bamboo, metal, electrics.

NEW NATURE, Room 10, Lower Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



Noguchi at Barbican Arts & Design

Akari 95EN, by 1970, Akari 24A, 1953, Akari PL2, c. 1976 Washi paper, bamboo, metal, electrics, 4 panels and Walking Void #2, 1970 Swedish granite.

EARTH, Room 9, Lower Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



Noguchi at Barbican Arts & Design

NEW NATURE, Room 10, Lower Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



With a new studio in Kamakura, he explored ceramic sculpture and lighting designs.



Noguchi at Barbican Arts & Design

Akari BB3–33S, 1952 (shade), 1954 (base) Washi paper, bamboo, metal, electrics and Lunar Table, 1961–65 Granite.

LUNAR, Room 5, Upper Gallery. ©Andrés Landino

His fellowship ends and he moves back to New York in 1955.



Noguchi at Barbican Arts & Design

NEW NATURE, Room 10, Lower Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



He establishes a new studio in Queens in 1961.



Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Ding Dong Bat, 1968. White statuary marble, pink Portuguese marble, Walking Void #2, 1970 Swedish granite and Akari Lamps, Washi paper, bamboo, metal, electrics (24A, 1953, 26A, 1952 & 95EN, by 1970). .

EARTH, Room 9, Lower Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



Already as a mature man who remained true to his passion and in a seemingly calmer world seeking 'peace', Noguchi's large-scale projects began to find spaces in different parts of the world for his designs of gardens, fountains, playgrounds and squares.



Noguchi at Barbican Arts & Design

Model for Sunken Garden for Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, c. 1963 Plaster, wood, paint, Rocking Stool in Wire Form, 1954, Steel wire, chrome plate, birch.

Collection of Isamu Noguchi: Lobi (Burkina Faso/Côte d’Ivoire), year unknown, Artist/unknown, Lobi maker, Wooden stool (Burkina Faso/ Côte d’Ivoire), year unknown, Artist unknown and Lega, Wooden stool (Democratic Republic of Congo), year unknown Artist unknown. CITIZEN OF THE EARTH, Room 12, Lower Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



He established a second home and studio in Mure-cho, Japan, in 1969.



Noguchi at Barbican Arts & Design

Age, 1981 Basalt, Mountains Forming, 1982–1983, Hot-dipped galvanised steel, Tsukubai, Chōzubachi, 1964 Mannari granite, water and Akari L5, c. 1976 Washi paper, bamboo, metal, electrics.

NEW NATURE, Room 10, Lower Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



Collaboration with prominent architects, multiple exhibitions and numerous awards filled his life until the end of his days.



Noguchi at Barbican Arts & Design

Maquettes for play equipment for Ala Moana Park, Hawaii, 1940, Metal, fabric tape, wood, paint and Garden of the Moon (U.S. Pavilion Expo ‘70), 1968, Plaster, wire, paint.

CITIZEN OF THE EARTH, Room 12, Lower Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum was founded and designed by him officially opening to the public on 11th May 1985.



Noguchi at Barbican Arts & Design

Bench, 1968 Granite.

CIVIC SCULPTURE , Room 11, Lower Gallery. ©Andrés Landino



Noguchi passed away on 30th December 1988.



Noguchi at Barbican Arts & Design

Passport photo of Isamu Noguchi, c. 1917–18. 06035. ©INFGM / ARS



"Moerenuma Park" was his latest and most ambitious playground design set in Japan, representing his greatest commitment as an artist to sculpt the world he wished to inhabit. Its construction began in 1988 and opened its doors in 2005.


His never-published book "The Study of Leisure" was completed with his legacy on the day of his death. It warns the new generation of artists of the need to use creativity to rescue public infrastructure from the mere purpose of functionality and business, creating environments that are more human, beautiful and in harmony with nature.


Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

Maquette for play equipment for Ala Moana Park, Hawaii, 1940, Metal, fabric tape, wood, paint,

CITIZEN OF THE EARTH, Room 12, Lower Gallery. ©Andrés Landino


In looking for his own identity as an American-Japanese, he ended up being a citizen of the world. He travelled extensively the globe even during periods of political turmoil. He was sensitised about the intention of public spaces merging east and west cultures. His circumstances shaped on him an unconventional artist having a bohemian and quite a nomadic way of life. He belonged everywhere yet nowhere, concluding that art is the interlock between human beings and nature, beauty is the tool for a healthier and happier society, and awareness is the medicine our planet needs.


Noguchi at Barbican Art & Design

POLITICAL CONSCIENCE, Room 4, Upper Gallery.


"Everything we do is a sculpture"


"We are a landscape of everything we know”.

Isamu Noguchi



Noguchi at Barbican Arts & Design


This exhibition is organised and curated by Barbican Centre (London), Museum Ludwig (Cologne) and Zentrum Paul Klee (Bern), in partnership with LaM - Lille Métropole Musée d'art moderne, d'art contemporain et d'art brut with the collaboration of The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York.

and generously supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art, with additional support from the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, U.S. Embassy London and

Design Collectors.



Andrés Landino



References


https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2021/event/noguchi


https://shop.barbican.org.uk/products/noguchi-catalogue


https://www.noguchi.org





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