Isamu Noguchi

United States 1904-1988

How does one sculpt space? How do objects give form to the surrounding emptiness? This puzzle, posed both by Europeans like Giacometti and Brancusi and the Zen artists of Japan, creates a theme that runs through the work of Isamu Noguchi. It is not one he attempted to solve, but like the Zen master, posed the question in different ways.

One of the great sculptors of the 20th century, Noguchi created "lived spaces" for the theater, interiors gardens and playgrounds. He also sought to bring sculptural qualities to the many objects he designed for common use. As a young man, Noguchi studied medicine at Columbia University, but abandoned medicine to pursue painting and sculpture and in 1927, a Guggenheim fellowship took him to Europe. In Paris, he had the great good fortune to be apprenticed in the studio of Constantin Brancusi, whose investigations of form and space recalled the art and architecture Noguchi knew from childhood years spent in Japan.

Back in America, Noguchi met choreographer Martha Graham and began a long friendship with Buckminster Fuller. Graham and Fuller provided Noguchi with inspiration, ideas and opportunities to create new forms like the sets he designed for Graham's dance programmes. In 1939, he designed a free-form dining table for the president of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, A. Congers Goodyear. The table's seductive organic form presaged the coffee table Noguchi would design for Herman Miller in 1944 and the wide range of products that he would design all during the 1940's, furniture Informed by the biomorphic imagery of his sculpture.

From his sculpture to his garden design to the Akari lamps designed in the 1950's, Noguchi's work sought always to resolve life and aesthetic practice, the art object and the utensil, just as he sought to reveal the essential unity of form and space.