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Icons at The Conran Shop: Akari Light Sculptures

In light of The Noguchi Museum’s striking exhibition Akari: Sculpture by Other Means in New York, in which a beautiful maze of lanterns displays the Akari Light Sculptures in its purest sculptural form, The Conran Shop delves into what makes Isamu Noguchi tick.

Intent on blurring the boundaries between monumental sculpture and organic furniture design, Japanese–American designer Isamu Noguchi was inspired to create the iconic Akari Lighting Collection.

Modelled after the lanterns that accompanied fishermen on the Nagara River at night and likened to the beauty of falling leaves and cherry blossom, Akari blends Japanese tradition and culture with elegant contemporary design.

Akari on display in a retail store in Japan, c.1970s. Michio Noguchi. © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Akari on display c.1970s| Image courtesy of The Isamu Noguchi Foundation

Having sketched designs for the first two Akari Lights during a visit to Gifu, a Japanese town celebrated for crafting paper parasols and lanterns, Noguchi eventually designed over 100 variations of the exceptional light.

Staying true to the Akari’s heritage, each light is still expertly crafted by artisans at the family-run Ozeki workshop in Gifu, almost 70 years after they were first designed. Carefully constructing the collection’s distinctive frames using bamboo rods stretched across Noguchi’s original wooden moulds, each light is finished with strips of hand-pressed Shoji paper that is fashioned using bark from the mulberry tree. Committed to craftmanship of the highest quality, each lamp is finished with Noguchi’s signature alongside a stylised sun and moon emblem as a mark of authenticity.

Not limited to life as a solely sculptural piece, each Akari Light brings a certain warmth to every space it illuminates, to the extent that Noguchi was fond of saying, “all you require to start a home is a room, a tatami, and an Akari”.

Akari Collection | Image Courtesy of Vitra
The Akari collection | Image courtesy of Vitra

The son of Yone Noguchi, a Japanese poet who has long been praised for his ability to fuse the East and West through his writing, Isamu Noguchi aspired to achieve the same heights through sculpture. With a career that encompassed the design of stage sets, furniture, lighting and gardens, Noguchi has certainly achieved this in a multitude of realms.

Reflecting the various cultures and traditions of the societies he encountered throughout his life, Noguchi’s work is renowned for its organic forms and the substantial influence it had on 1950s design.

Akari: Sculpture By Other Means | Image Courtesy of The Noguchi Museum
Akari: Sculpture by Other Means | Image Courtesy of The Noguchi Museum

Since its original conceptualisation in 1951, this unique collection has been lauded as an icon of mid-century design. Exemplifying the designer’s goal of blurring the boundaries between epic sculpture and lighting design, the Akari: Sculpture by Other Means exhibition reflects Isamu Noguchi's belief that 'everything is sculpture'.

Unlike when Noguchi represented the USA at the 1986 Venice Biennale and was asked to display anything but Akari, The Noguchi Museum’s exhibit embraces the iconic light wholeheartedly.

Isamu Noguchi | Image Courtesy of Vitra
Isamu Noguchi | Image Courtesy of Vitra

Named ‘Akari’ after the Japanese word for ‘light’, the collection reflects the physical lightness and literal illumination that the luminaires provide. Reflecting this collective lightness, The Noguchi Museum’s exhibition displays the globular lights as though floating ethereally through the room, for a special and enchanting experience.

"The light of Akari is like the light of the sun filtered through the paper of shoji. The harshness of electricity is thus transformed through the magic of paper back to the light of our origin – the sun – so that its warmth may continue to fill our rooms at night."

 - Isamu Noguchi

Although the Akari: Sculpture by Other Means exhibition has come to an end, you can discover and shop the Akari range here.