Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) was one of the 20th century’s most important and critically acclaimed sculptors whose career spanned six decades, from the 1920s onward. 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, travelled extensively throughout his life. 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 utilised a wide range of materials, including stainless steel, marble, cast iron, balsawood, bronze, sheet aluminium, 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 City of the work of Romanian-born sculptor Constantin Brâncuși’s that profoundly changed his artistic direction. With a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, Noguchi went to Paris, and from 1927 to 1929 worked in Brâncuși’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.
In 1947, Noguchi began a collaboration with the Herman Miller company, when he joined with designers George Nelson, Paul László and Charles Eames to produce a catalogue containing what is often considered to be the most influential body of modern furniture ever produced, including the iconic Noguchi table which remains in production today. Noguchi received the Edward MacDowell Medal for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to the Arts in 1982; the National Medal of Arts in 1987; and the Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Japanese government in 1988. Today the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum in New York is devoted to the preservation, documentation, presentation, and interpretation of his awe-inspiring works.