Art on This Day
American artist and landscape architect Isamu Noguchi was born on this day in 1908, Los Angeles, California. Noguchi is one of the twentieth century’s most important and critically acclaimed sculptures. 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.
Born to an American mother, Léonie Gilmour, and Japanese father, poet Yone Noguchi, 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 profoundly changed his artistic and 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 widely 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 of sculpture. In 1942, Noguchi set up a studio at 33 MacDougal Alley, in Greenwich Village, having spent much of the 1930s based in New York City but traveling extensively in Asia, Mexico, and Europe.
In 1985, Noguchi opened The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum (now known as The Noguchi Museum), in Long Island City, New York. The Museum, established and designed by the artist, marked the culmination of his commitment to public spaces. Located in a 1920s industrial building across the street from where the artist had established a studio in 1960, it has a serene outdoor sculpture garden, and many galleries that display Noguchi’s work, along with photographs and models from his career. Noguchi’s first retrospective in the United States was in 1968, at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. In 1986, he represented the United States at the Venice Biennale. Noguchi received the Edward MacDowell Medal for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to the Arts in 1982; the Kyoto Prize in Arts in 1986; the National Medal of Arts in 1987; and the Order of Sacred Treasure from the Japanese government in 1988. He died in New York City in 1988.
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