View All Available Formats & Editions

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781558597556
Publisher: Abbeville Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/28/1995
Series: Modern Masters Series
Pages: 128
Product dimensions: 8.50(w) x 11.10(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt


Born in the United States of mixed parentage, Isamu Noguchi had a Japanese childhood and an American adolescence. His notion of modern art was forged in the Paris studio of Constantin Brancusi and modified through the technological utopianism of R. Buckminster Fuller. Combined with his experience of the traditional Japanese house and garden and with his work on the avant garde stage of Martha Graham, these influences led him toward a broadened conception of sculpture as the creation of social space. In pursuit of this modernist project, Noguchi would create plazas and gardens, furniture and interiors, ignoring the boundary between art and design. But he also continued the carving of stone and wood that brought him critical attention in New York during the 1940s. In his last decades this carving was deeply influenced by his work in Japan, and a new aesthetic emerged from his years of conversation with stone, in what he called "the sculpture of spaces." Understood in this way, Noguchi was a modernist of the New York School, an artist who synthesized East and West in service to an innovative vision of what sculpture could be. And this view, as far as it goes, is an accurate one.

But in the details of Noguchi's life and career are many other issues of special interest in the late twentieth century. His mixed ethnicity and his family circumstances prompted a frustrating search for cultural identity within a world of rigid cultural assumptions. His work outside traditional means of making sculpture questioned the model of the creator alone in the studio and made collaboration as central to his sculptural production as it was to his landscape and design projects. Needing togarner and execute these projects, and distrustful of art dealers, he operated as a free agent in the art world, devising a means of survival within a system that did not readily accept such independence. To maintain this nonstandard career Noguchi had to orchestrate activity of enormous scope over long periods of time, which required a staff and, in effect, made a business of his artistic enterprise. Focused on garden and architectural projects, and also wanting to make useful sculptural objects for manufacture, Noguchi was set apart by his unconcealed relationship to commerce and capital. From this perspective his modernist project takes on a postmodern cast, and this apparent insider looks like an artistic outsider.

Noguchi was well aware of his peripheral status, both culturally and artistically. He was viewed as a Japanese artist in the United States, and until quite recently, in Japan he was regarded as too American. Because of his many design projects and his involvement with the patrons needed to support them, he was derided by some of his New York School peers and dismissed as less serious than those who remained cloistered in the studio. In a system oriented toward specialization and the single focus, the diversity of his activities worked against him with every constituency. So, despite many moments of notice, the public remained largely unaware of the full range of his achievement. Noguchi's peripatetic nature—his inability to rest secure in any place or situation, or in any kind of work or mode of working—made him, and kept him, a marginal figure. This was especially painful for someone as estranged from cultural and familial roots as Isamu Noguchi.

Noguchi said that he could feel at home everywhere because he was at home nowhere, and this issue became a central theme of his life and work. His sense of homelessness and his longing to redress it became a source both for his creation of places for social connection and interaction and for some of his most poignant carving. And it led this New York artist to seek meaning abroad. The confluence of Noguchi's sculptural project and his search for identity through place can be seen in the two special situations that he created for himself toward the end of his life: a museum of his work in New York and a studio complex in Japan. As he had taken control of his career in order to accomplish his work, so Noguchi founded sites of personal myth to govern how he would be seen by the public, and how he would appear to himself. In such dichotomy Noguchi regularly found strength—in tensions between Asia and the West, ancient and modern, the practical and the utopian, social engagement and personal isolation. In the end, he could think of no fewer than two places as home.

Those who knew Noguchi rarely fail to mention that he was always in motion, a man of incredible energy and ambition. His working life extended for more than sixty years, and much of that time he was engaged simultaneously in many fields. Ranging across some of the dominant cultural movements of the century and intersecting crucial persons and places, his is an amazing story, apparently larger than life. But it begins at the outset of the century with a small boy in Japan, who soon would have to make his way alone.

Table of Contents


Toward Modernism

Sculpture and Society

Search for Identity

The Sculpture of Spaces

Deepening Knowledge


Artist's Statements

Notes on Technique



Public Collections

Selected Bibliography


Author Biography: Bruce Altshuler is director of the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum in Long Island City, New York.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews