Upbringing and Artistic Development
Isamu Noguchi was born in 1904 in Los Angeles to a Japanese father and an American mother. He was one of the 20th century’s most important and critically acclaimed sculptors. Noguchi’s work is at once subtle and bold, much like the merging of Japanese and American cultures, and he bridged traditional and modern styles.
While a pre-med student at Columbia University, Noguchi began taking evening sculpture classes on New York’s Lower East Side, where his mentor was Onorio Ruotolo.
In 1926, Noguchi saw an exhibition of the work of Constantin Brancusi that profoundly affected him. He proceeded to win a Guggenheim Fellowship to work in Brancusi’s studio in Paris from 1927 to 1929. Brancusi’s reductive forms inspired Noguchi whose sculpture turned more to modernism and abstraction and his finished pieces were full of lyrical mysticism and emotion. During this time, Noguchi became a friend of Alexander Calder, whose sculpture career was also just beginning.
Accentuating Nature Through Sculpture
Noguchi created huge abstract pieces combined of natural mediums like stone, wood, and marble. He also used water and light in his art, juxtaposed rough and smooth textures, experimented with new materials, particularly aluminum, and constructed the first illuminated sculptures. In many of Noguchi’s pieces, bases play an integral role. Furthermore, he designed furniture and paired sculpture and landscape architecture, developing environmental art and earthworks (Play Mountain, 1933) along with stage sets, gardens, and murals.
Public Art and Works
In the 1930s, Noguchi sculpted numerous head portraits and busts in bronze and terra cotta. Among his subjects were Martha Graham, George Gershwin, and Buckminster Fuller. This “realistic” work supported him financially while he otherwise emphasized abstraction.
Noguchi designed the bas-relief, News (1938-1940), for the entrance to Rockefeller Center’s Associated Press Building. The work is made of cast stainless steel and is symbolic of the occupants of the building at that time. Other public sites for sculptures by Noguchi are gardens for the UNESCO Building at the United Nations, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, bridges in Hiroshima, and gardens elsewhere in Japan.
For the last two decades of Noguchi’s life, he spent half of each year on the Japanese island of Shikoku, working exclusively in stone. Noguchi’s studio in Shikoku became a museum in 1999.
In 1988, just before Noguchi’s death, he completed plans to convert a 450-acre dump site into a park, now named Moerenuma Park, in Sapporo, Japan.Contact a Specialist View all Artists/Makers