Isamu Noguchi is an American artist of Japanese descent. He is mostly qualified as a sculptor but he also worked in the design, gardens, and scenography fields: multi-faced, artistically and personally, he represents, in his own words, “the fusion of two worlds, East and West [and hopes to reflect] more than both.”
Born in Los Angeles to a Japanese father, the poet Yonejiro Noguchi (1875-1947), and an American mother, the journalist Leonie Gilmour (1873-1933), his childhood was as much marked by the absence of his father as his early years he spent in Japan between 1907 and 1918. While his mother sent him back to the United States alone, he began studying medicine at Columbia University (New York) and studied sculpture in evening classes at the Leonardo Da Vinci Art School. He finally chose the artistic path. The exhibition of Constantin Brâncuși (1876-1957) in 1926 at the Brummer Gallery curated by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) changed him for ever: he obtained a grant from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to go to Paris where he became Brâncuși’s assistant. He never again left abstraction after that.
He left behind him the mimetic academicism he learns before and he turned his work into reduced forms: he thus embraced the Modernity with his organic and geometric sculptures, full of lyricism, poetry and emotion. Far from restricting himself to the only field of sculpture, he created in many artistic fields – critics did not really like that – but one clear line remains: the environment. Indeed, Isamu Noguchi always thinks his works in terms of space: in his costume designs and stage projects for Martha Graham (1894-1991) as in “Frontier” in 1935, his heavy sculptures like “Awa Odori” from 1982, his innovative playgrounds like the one in Piedmont Park in Atlanta in 1975-1976 (Georgia, USA) or his furniture like the “Rudder” series for Herman Miller from 1944, it’s all about intense sculptural abstraction, social dimension and the impact of each object on their surroundings.
Akari is undoubtedly his most personal work. At first glance they can be readable as lamps, and they are, but they are also sculptures, an important part of the language that Isamu Noguchi creates to connect with the country of the father who abandoned him, Japan. Created in 1951 after an order received from the mayor of Gifu to revitalize the then sluggish chochin market, Isamu Noguchi spent the rest of his life creating more than two hundred Akari, in close collaboration with Ozeki craftsmen, playing with shapes and sizes. They are distributed worldwide and they are a considerable success, a perfect mix and match between tradition and modernity, a tribute to his origins, a try to get closer of his ancestors lands.
Isamu Noguchi is one of the most important artists of the 20th century. He wanted to have an impact on everyday life with his social sculptures. He follows the Japanese philosophy that put a bowl of tea and a brushstroke, a lamp and a sculpture on an equal footing. He is multi-cultural – and often misunderstood in his own words – and Isamu Noguchi decided to build his own museum during his lifetime: the Noguchi Museum in New York is still today a heaven of peace, the right place for his works, the one they finally deserved.