sculpture Isamu Noguchi, 1980, photo credits Art Blart museum museum museum

Isamu Noguchi

United States 1904 - 1988

Sculpture, Abstract Expressionism

Isamu Noguchi
Isamu Noguchi
United States
December 1, 2016
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One of the 20th century’s most significant and critically acclaimed sculptors and designers, Isamu Noguchi was a major figure of both the American and Japanese modern art scenes. Spirituality and technically influenced by his mentor Constantin Brancusi, this sculptor made fascinating pieces which integrated Japanese aesthetics with Western modernism. He pursued a lifetime of creative experimentations that exceeded way beyond the boundaries of contemporary visual arts, design, theater and architecture. Besides being incited by his Romanian mentor, Isamu Noguchi also found much inspiration within abstract forms of Jean Arp and Japanese Zen gardens. It should also be noted that this sculptor was prone to artistic partnerships of various kinds as Noguchi collaborated on many occasions with the likes of Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Erick Hawkins, George Balanchine and the composer John Cage.

All designs and museum works must not be placed in a home garden
Isamu Noguchi – Black Sun, 1969 – Image via

A Lonely Childhood

Isamu Noguchi was born in Los Angeles,California, during the year of 1904. He was the illegitimate son of Yone Noguchi, a Japanese poet who had an established fan base in the United States, and Léonie Gilmour, an American writer who was in charge of editing much of Noguchi’s work. Interestingly, it took about three years before the little child even got a name – he was named Isamu (勇, meaning courage in his native language) in 1907 when his father returned to Japan that year. However, despite initially wanting to spend time with his son, Yone married a new woman in Japan and was gone for the big majority of his son’s childhood. Young Isamu spent most of his toddler years at his half-sister’s house, Ailes Gilmour – interestingly, she will as well grow up to be an artist, a pioneer of the American Modern Dance movement. Tenants of the house were aware of the artistic talent Noguchi was displaying on a regular basis, so they’ve arranged him to be apprenticed to a local carpenter. Isamu yet again moved when he was at the age of thirteen, this time going to an English-speaking community in Yokohama. Although his father was absent from his life, Yone Noguchi still supported Isamu financially – in 1918, the young artist was sent to the Untied States so he could attend the classes at the Rolling Prairie in Indiana. After graduating, he relocated to LaPorte where he found boarding with a Swedenborgian pastor called Samuel Mack. Noguchi began attending the La Porte High School where he got a degree in 1922. During this period of his life, he went by the name of Sam Gilmour.

The most innovative concept Isamu Noguchi introduced to the modern scene was his idea that art must have a public role within social space where the viewers can interact with it directly

Isamu Noguchi - Sun at Noon (a museum set), 1969 - Image via iheartmyartcom
Isamu Noguchi – Sun at Noon, 1969 – Image via

Isamu Noguchi’s Choice Between Medicine and Art

Still a young man, Isamu Noguchi decided to attempt to become a full-time artist. He went to Connecticut in order to work as an apprentice to his friend Gutzon Borglum, the author of Mount Rushmore National Memorial. At the time Noguchi joined him, Borglum was working on a project titled Wars of America for the city of Newark, New Jersey, a piece that included forty-two figures and two equestrian sculptures. As an apprentice of the artist, Isamu was in charge of arranging the horses and modeling for the monumental sculpture of General Sherman. Although he was not the only apprentice under Borgulum’s wings, the lack of attention he received was instead reinforced as Noguchi picked up some skills in casting from Borglum’s Italian assistants. The sculptor later fashioned an impressive bust of Abraham Lincoln. When the very first summer of working under Gutzon came to an end, Borglum told Noguchi that he would never become a sculptor, prompting him to reconsider his career choice. Disappointed, Isamu traveled to New York City, reuniting with his family at their new residence in the Big Apple. He started studying medicine at Columbia University in the year of 1922. However, soon after he enrolled at the new school, Noguchi met the bacteriologist Hideyo Noguchi who urged him to reconsider art despite previous failures. Isamu also met the Japanese dancer Michio Itō, a talented young girl whose celebrity status later helped Noguchi find acquaintances within the NYC art scene. Noguchi did not give up studying to become a doctor, but he did start attending night classes at the Leonardo da Vinci Art School. However, he soon dropped out of Columbia University to pursue sculpture full-time, changing his name from Gilmour, the surname he had used for years by that time, to Noguchi.

Although he was socially and artistically linked to Abstract Expressionism, Noguchi worked differently on a conceptual level as he mixed Surrealistic ideas with Japanese influences

Isamu Noguchi - The Red Cube on Broadway, the Museum Home of George - Image via pinterestcom
Isamu Noguchi – The Red Cube on Broadway – Image via

The Mature Career

After moving into his own studio in New York, Noguchi found employment through commissions for portrait busts as this was the only kind of sculpture making he had tangible experience in. During this time, he frequently visited avant-garde shows at the galleries of such modern artists as Alfred Stieglitz and J. B. Neumann. Noguchi also took a particular interest in the works of Romanian-born sculptor Constantin Brancusi. In 1926, Noguchi applied for a Guggenheim Fellowship and received the award. Isamu arrived in Paris the next year and soon afterward met the American author Robert McAlmo who introduced him to Brancusi. Despite a language barrier between the two artists, Noguchi was taken in as Brancusi’s assistant for the next seven months during which he learned all about making stone sculptures. After a few years of traveling between Paris and NY, as well as developing his style, Isamu started displaying his abstract sculptures. He soon found himself accepting commissions from wealthy and celebrity clients. Noguchi returned to New York in 1937. He developed an idea that every genuine piece of sculpture must have a relationship with its carefully picked surroundings and that such artworks should be installed in a manner that allows the viewers to interact with them.

Following the suicide of his friend Arshile Gorky in 1948, Noguchi applied for a Bollingen Fellowship to travel the world, proposing to study public space for a series of books. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Noguchi’s sculpture drew influences from the surrealist movement and Japanise traditional visuals. He also spent a lot of time designing furniture and lamps as these kinds of pieces answered all the conceptual requirements Isamu placed before sculptures. Isamu Noguchi died on December 30, 1988, at the age of 84. Although he was doubted as an artist for the majority of his life, he was finally accepted by the American scene after his death. At that sad moment, The New York Times described him as a versatile and prolific sculptor whose earthy stones and meditative gardens bridging East and West have become landmarks of 20th-century art.

In order to make his abstract sculptures, Isamu Noguchi merged geometric and organic forms that challenged the established boundaries of both design and art

Since 1988, Japan press requests that designs and other museum works are not set in garden
Isamu Noguchi – Zwillings plastik, 1972 – Image via

The Contemporary Value of Isamu Noguchi

Throughout all his innovative work, Isamu Noguchi experimented with biomorphic forms in order to achieve unexpected aesthetic combinations which remain mesmerizing to the viewers to this very day. He spent over six decades creating abstract artworks that were based on both organic and geometric forms, many of which still serve as a pivotal guiding star to anyone pursuing a career in abstract sculpture. Noguchi’s greatest aesthetic achievement was the realization of a goal he pursued for the majority of his life – to make sculptures that shape and enhance public spaces, upgrading them to a new level. These concepts were not only crucial for the development of modern abstract sculpture but were also invaluable to the evolution of architectural artworks of the contemporary era. All of these achievements established Isamu Noguchi as a decisive figure in the worlds of post-war sculpture, architecture and design.

This artist is represented by Pace Gallery London, Pace Gallery Beijing, Pace Gallery Hong Kong and Pace Gallery Menlo Park.


  1. Herrera, H., Listening to Stone: The Art and Life of Isamu Noguchi, Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition, 2016
  2. Torres , A., Isamu Noguchi: A Study of Space, The Monacelli Press; First Edition, 2000
  3. Duus, M., The Life of Isamu Noguchi: Journey without Borders, Princeton University Press, 2006
  4. Noguchi, I., Isamu Noguchi: Space of Akari and Stone, Chronicle Books; First American Edition, 1986
  5. Apostolos-Cappadona, D., Noguchi, I., Altshuler, B., Isamu Noguchi: Essays and Conversations, Harry N Abrams; First edition , 1994
  6. Vitra Design Museum, Isamu Noguchi: Sculptural Design, Vitra Design Mus; First English Language Edition, 2002
  7. Fuller, B., Isamu Noguchi: A Sculptor’s World, Steidl; 2 edition, 2011

Featured image: Isamu Noguchi – Photo of the artist, 1980 – Image via
All images used for illustrative purposes only.

YearName of the exhibitionMuseum/GallerySolo/Group
2017Geknetetes Wissen - Die Sprache der KeramikKunsthaus Graz, GrazSolo
2016Dance: American Art, 1830–1960 The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MIGroup
2016Downtown@mc II11 Columbia, MonacoGroup
2016The Playground Project Kunsthalle Zürich, ZurichGroup
2016Los Parques De Noguchi Museo Tamayo, Mexico CityGroup
2015Isamu Noguchi: VariationsPace Gallery, New York, USASolo
2014Mingei: Are You Here?Pace London, England, UK Group
2013Isamu Noguchi: We Are the Landscape of All We KnowPortland Japanese Garden, Oregon, USASolo
2013Isamu Noguchi and Qi Baishi: Beijing 1930The Noguchi Museum, New York, USAGroup
2013Mingei: Are You Here?Pace London, England, UK Group
2012MythologyPace, New York, USAGroup
2008Isamu NoguchiYorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, UK Solo
2008Picasso to Moore: Modern Sculpture from the Weiner CollectionPalm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, USAGroup
2008Sintesis - muestra colectivaGaleria Cayon, Madrid, Spain Group
2008La Construccion del Paisaje ContemporaneoCentro de Arte y Naturaleza - Fundacion Beulas, Huesca, SpainGroup
2008Design CitiesIstanbul Museum of Modern Art, Istanbul, TurkeyGroup
2008Cosas del SurrealismoMuseo Guggenheim de Arte Moderno y Contemporaneo, Bilbao, Spain Group
2008Against Nature: The hybrid forms of modern sculptureHenry Moore Institute, Leeds, UK Group
200720th Century Design ArtThe Columns, Seoul, South Korea Group
2007Minimalism and AppliedDaimler Contemporary, Berlin, Germany Group
2007Arte y Recursos Naturales: MineriaMuseo de Arte Contemporaneo. Universidad de Chile, Santiago, ChileGroup
2007Light Time and Three DimensionsPaceWildenstein, New York, USA Group
2007Options within RealismJason McCoy Gallery, New York, USA Group
2007SculptureDunn and Brown Contemporary, Dallas, USA Group
2007Surreal Things - Surrealism and DesignVictoria and Albert Museum, London, UK Group
2006Metamorphosis in ClayMuseo Colecciones ICO, Madrid, Spain Solo
2006Connecting the World through SculptureThe Museum of Modern Art, Shiga, Japan Solo
2006Connecting the World through SculptureYokohama Museum of Art, Nishi-ku, Japan Solo
2006La Danza delle AvanguardieMuseo d Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto, Rovereto, ItalyGroup
2006Was ist Plastik? 100 Jahre-100 Köpfe - Das Jahrhundert moderner SkulpturStiftung Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum-Center of International Sculpture, Duisburg, Germany Group
2006The Imagery of Chess - RevisitedThe Menil Collection, Houston, USA Group
200660th Anniversary ShowGimpel Fils, London, UK Group
2006Breaking Out! Sculptural Explorations in Metal & WoodArt Museum, Palm Springs, USA Group
2006Best of Friends: R.Buckminster Fuller and Isamu NoguchiThe Noguchi Museum, New York, USAGroup
2006Outside EuropeStadtgalerie, Kiel, Germany Group
2006Living in Motion - Design and Architecture for Flexible DwellingICA Boston, Boston, USAGroup
2005Isamu NoguchiMuseum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan Solo
2005Noguchi - The Bollingen Journey 1949-1956Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, USA Solo
2005Sculptural DesignSeattle Art Museum, Seattle, USASolo
2005Isamu Noguchi - Master SculptorHirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, USASolo
2005Outside Europe-Aus der Sammlung DaimlerChryslerDaimler Contemporary, Berlin, Germany Group
2005Exhibition of Indoor CollectionsKirishima Open-Air Museum, Kagoshima, Japan Group
2005The Imagery of Chess RevisitedThe Noguchi Museum, New York, JapanGroup
2005Papermade ModernismThe Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, USA Group
2005Outside EuropeGalerie der Stadt Sindelfingen, Sindelfingen, Germany Group
2005SummertimeMario Mauroner Contemporary Art, Vienna, Austria Group
2005Surrealism USAPhoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, USA Group
2005The Shape of TimeWalker Art Center, Minneapolis, USA Group
2004Isamu Noguchi: Master SculptorWhitney Museum of American Art, New York City, USA Solo
2004Monocromos-de Malevich al presenteMuseo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain Group
2004Modern Means:Continuity and Change in Art from 1880 to the PresentMori Art Museum, Tokyo, JapanGroup
2003Living in Motion:Design and Architecture for Flexible DwellingIrish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, IrelandSolo
2003Akari - light sculpture by Isamu NoguchiThe National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, Japan Solo
2003Isamu Noguchi and Modern Japanese CeramicsJapan Society, New York, USA Solo
200333 MacDougal Alley: The Interlocking Sculpture of Isamu NoguchiPaceWildenstein, New York, USASolo
2003Isamu Noguchi. Sculptural designMuseo d Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto, Rovereto, ItalySolo
2003Black WhiteDanese, New York, USA Group
2003Kunstlerphotographien-Beruhmte Photographen portraitieren beruhmte KunstlerGalerie Pudelko, Bonn, GermanyGroup
2003American Art - The Wilfred Davis Fletcher CollectionBoise Art Museum, Boise, USA Group
2003Male Artists Picture Men s BodiesThe University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, USAGroup
2003Modern Bronze - Masterworks from a Private CollectionYale University Art Gallery, New Haven, USAGroup
2002Isamu NoguchiMuseo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, SpainSolo
2002Figure/Space-Selected Works from the AddisonAddison Gallery of American Art, Andover, USAGroup
2002JaponisGalerie Downtown, Paris, France Group
2002American BeautyAnnely Juda Fine Art, London, UK Group
2001Isamu Noguchi - Sculptural DesignVitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany Solo
2001The Human Figure in Modern SculptureRodin Gallery, Seoul, South Korea Group
2001Vital forms - American Art in the anatomic age 1940-1960Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, USAGroup
2000The Cities CollectWalker Art Center, Minneapolis, USA Group
2000Earthly Forms: The Biomorphic Sculpture of Arp, Calder and NoguchiPaceWildenstein, New York, USA Group
1999Great Design - 100 Masterpieces from the Vitra Design MuseumPhoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, USAGroup
1999Carved, Modeled, Assembled, Welded, DrawnAlbright - Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, USA Group
1998Isamu Noguchi - Stones and WaterPaceWildenstein, New York, USA Solo
1998Summer Group ShowPaceWildenstein, New York, USAGroup
1998The 60s in the SeventiesUbu Gallery, New York, USAGroup
1994Isamu Noguchi - Beginnings and EndsPaceWildenstein, New York, USASolo
1994NoguchiFundacion Juan March, Madrid, Spain Solo
1983Isamu Noguchi: Galvanized Steel SculptureOrange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, USASolo
1977Noguchi: The Sculptor as DesignerMuseum of Modern Art, New York, USA Solo
1970annual exhibition Comtemporary American SculptureWhitney Museum of American Art, New York, USAGroup
1964Paintings and Sculptures from the Collection of Mr. And Mrs. Ted WeinerContemporary Arts Museum, Houston, USA Group
1964documenta 3Documenta, Kassel, GermanyGroup
1959documenta 2Documenta, Kassel, GermanyGroup