Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) American sculptor and designer.

Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988), was an American sculptor and designer. He was born in Los Angeles and professionally active in New York. He was influential and well-received in the twentieth century. He produced sculptures, gardens, furniture and lighting designs, ceramics, architecture, and set designs throughout his lifetime of creative experimentation. His work, both subtle and bold, traditional and modern, set a new standard for reintegrating the arts.

The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York
The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York

Education

Between 1921-22, he studied at Columbia University, New York. 

Biography

Noguchi, an internationalist, had also travelled all his life extensively. (He had studios in both Japan and New York in his later years.) In Mexico, he discovered the influence of large-scale public works. In Japan, he discovered earthy ceramics and tranquil gardens. In China, he discovered subtle ink-brush techniques, and in Italy, he discovered the beauty of marble. All of these impressions were integrated into his work, which included stainless steel, marble, cast iron, balsa wood, bronze, sheet aluminium, basalt, granite, and water, among other materials.

In 1917, he trained as a cabinetmaker in Japan and, in 1918, he returned to the USA. 

In c1922, he assisted the director of the Leonardo da Vinci Art School in New York. 

During the 1920s and 1930s, Noguchi was a maker of portrait busts. 

1927-1929, he was Constantin Brancusi’s assistant in Paris, where he met Alberto Giacometti.

From 1932, Noguchi lived mainly in New York, where he was a sculptor.

He designed the 1937 helmet-like bakelite radio for Zenith of Chicago and executed 1940 designs for Steuben Glassworks. 

Noguchi designed a 1939 free-form glass-topped coffee table for the house of A. Congers Goodyear, president of the New York Museum of Modern Art. There were other variations of this table by Noguchi, including the version (IN50) mass-produced from 1944 by Herman Miller, discontinued in 1973 and put back into production in the 1980s.

Play Sculpture by Isamu Noguchi
Play Sculpture by Isamu Noguchi

Other Herman Miller furniture included the 1946 IN70 sofa and matching IN71 ottoman, 1949 IN20 rudder dining table, IN52 rudder coffee table, and IN22 rudder stool. 

Coffee Table (IN-50), 1944 Glass and wood by Isamu Noguchi
Coffee Table (IN-50), 1944 Glass and wood by Isamu Noguchi

Noguchi designed ceramics produced in Japan. He married expressive biomorphic forms with Asian elegance in his furniture designs. 

His sculpture gardens, including the example at the Bienecke Rare Book Library of Yale University, fused design, sculpture, and architecture. 

His chochin-type lighting fixtures were made of mulberry paper and spirally woven bamboo (in 1944 and 1951-66), produced by Ozeki, Gifu, and called Akari (‘light’), which are still in production today. 

His early free form cocktail tables with glass tops and walnut bases are now considered museum treasures. For mass production, he designed an amusing 1954 rocking stool-table and 1955 group of wire-and-Formica tables for Knoll, and biomorphic tables, a sofa, and an ottoman for Herman Miller. 

The stuffed sofa and ottoman of the late 1940s, originally produced in a limited edition by Herman Miller, were reproduced by an Italian manufacturer from the 1980s. In the 1980s, he established a museum in Long Island City, New York, to exhibit his work. 

Isamu Noguchi for Herman Miller furniture
Isamu Noguchi for Herman Miller furniture

Recognition

The first design in the Akari light fixture range was shown at the 1983-84 ‘Design Since 1945 · exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Exhibitions of his sculpture included the Whitney Museum in New York in 1968 and 1978 ‘Noguchi’s Imaginary Landscapes’ at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. 

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

Dizik, A. A. (1988). Concise encyclopedia of interior design. Van Nostrand Reinhold.

The Noguchi Museum. (2020, August 22). Isamu Noguchi Biography. The Noguchi Museum. https://www.noguchi.org/isamu-noguchi/biography/biography/.

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