In honour of Isamu Noguchi's kaleidoscopic career, the Barbican Art Gallery hosts the first European touring retrospective of the Japanese-American artist's work in over two decades, and we were fortunate enough to be one of the first to see his nirvana on a sunny September morning.
Staged across two floors and twelve sections, the gallery's Brutalist confines proved the perfect backdrop to Noguchi's sculpture, architecture, dance, and design pieces. The eclectic and signature assortment spans from his six-decade-long career, which embraced vital social, environmental, and spiritual topics.
The exhibition offers an enthralling spotlight on the life of Noguchi, from his perseverance during the adversity of the Second World War to his desire in making art accessible to all. Showcasing over 150 works from private and public collections, expect to find rare archived materials, the iconic, eponymous Coffee Table, and pieces cast in stone, bronze, ceramic, wood, aluminium, and steel.
As we entered the space, we couldn't help but feel instantly at ease amongst a plethora of perfectly placed Akari Light Sculptures. Noguchi's name is spelt out in grand letters bestowing him the recognition he so rightfully deserves. He may have passed away three decades ago, but his presence was felt in every corner of this almost living environment.
Starting from the upper gallery, the exhibit is organised by interconnecting themes and chronological artistic development. The first was entitled 'I Became a Sculptor' and filled with some of his finest sculptures, illuminated with more Akari Lights. Each remarkable space is unique in its own right, from the light-filled 'New Nature,' a response to Noguchi's criticism towards technological advances of the 1940s, to the final 'Citizen of the Earth,' a display of the inspiration he sought in his travels across Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Born in Los Angeles in 1904 to an Irish-American mother and a Japanese father, Noguchi spent his childhood in the latter's native land. A curious soul, he was very well-travelled; in pursuit of both inspiration and a place to call home, something associated with his double nationality, as evidenced by pieces including the soul-bearing 1933 sculpture, 'Boy Looking Through Legs Morning Exercises.'
Noguchi's work is simultaneously subtle and bold, traditional and modern; it sure set a new standard for the reintegration of the arts. Affected by Mexico's impactful large-scale public works, Japan's earthy ceramics and tranquil gardens, ink-brush techniques from China, and the purity of Italian marble, these influences informed his work and his use of materials as so gracefully demonstrated throughout the exhibition.