Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) was one of the twentieth century’s most important and critically acclaimed sculptors. Through a lifetime of artistic experimentation, he created sculptures, gardens, furniture and lighting designs, ceramics, architecture, and set designs. His work, at once subtle and bold, traditional and modern, set a new standard for the reintegration of the arts.
Noguchi, an internationalist, traveled extensively throughout his life. (In his later years he maintained studios both in Japan and New York.) He discovered the impact of large-scale public works in Mexico, earthy ceramics and tranquil gardens in Japan, subtle ink-brush techniques in China, and the purity of marble in Italy. He incorporated all of these impressions into his work, which utilized a wide range of materials, including stainless steel, marble, cast iron, balsawood, bronze, sheet aluminum, basalt, granite, and water.
Born in Los Angeles, California, to an American mother and a Japanese father, Noguchi lived in Japan until the age of thirteen, when he moved to Indiana. While studying pre-medicine at Columbia University, he took evening sculpture classes on New York’s Lower East Side, mentoring with the sculptor Onorio Ruotolo. He soon left the University to become an academic sculptor.
In 1926 Noguchi saw an exhibition in New York of the work of Constantin Brancusi’s that profoundly changed his artistic direction. With a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, Noguchi went to Paris, and from 1927 to 1929 worked in Brancusi’s studio. Inspired by the older artist’s reductive forms, Noguchi turned to modernism and a kind of abstraction, infusing his highly finished pieces with a lyrical and emotional expressiveness, and with an aura of mystery.
Noguchi’s work was not recognized in the United States until 1938, when he completed a large-scale sculpture symbolizing the freedom of the press, which was commissioned for the Associated Press building in Rockefeller Center, New York City. This was the first of what would become numerous celebrated public works worldwide, ranging from playgrounds to plazas, gardens to fountains, all reflecting his belief in the social significance sculpture.
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