Where To See an Isamu Noguchi Sculpture, Apart from The White House

November 26, 2020

The current state of affairs in the United States is under decreased tension as the majority of votes on all poles across the country went in favor of President-elect Joe Biden. The current president Donald Trump still denounces the apparent victory of his rival and keeps maintaining the same rhetoric that is under the ongoing scrutiny of the public.

In the meantime, the outgoing First Lady Melania Trump unveiled a new artwork acquired for the White House collection. The sculpture by the renowned artist Isamu Noguchi was installed in the outer part of the White House complex called the Rose Garden. This particular acquisition is rather epic due to the fact this is indeed the first artwork by an Asian American artist to become part of the national collection.

Despite the comments made on social networks indicating that the sculpture itself indicates an actual crack of Trump’s rule and that the acquisition seems phony in terms of the president’s racists persuasions, the same is important as it underlines the significance of one of the leading figures of Modernism in America from the 1920s to 1970s.

Namely, Isamu Noguchi was a highly acclaimed Japanese American artist best known for his abstract sculptures, public projects, designed stage sets, and iconic furniture pieces, some of which are still manufactured and sold. Noguchi's artistic career spanned six decades, as he experimented with forms and materials, traveled extensively, and integrating different disciplines to create a particular artwork. By combining the traditional and the modern, with a dose of internationalism and different avant-garde influences, the artist managed to create subtle, yet recognizable style and numerous large-scale public works that engaged both artistic enjoyment and participation.

Noguchi started his career as an apprentice of Gutzon Borglum, the famous sculptor and the creator of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Although Borglum discouraged him from pursuing art, the artist remained focused by taking night classes and during the late 1920s through the 1930s he was producing mostly commissioned portrait sculptures, design, proposed landscape works, and playgrounds. In the 1940s, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the state backlash against the Japanese Americans, turned Noguchi into a political activist. In 1942 he became one of the founders of Nisei Writers and Artists Mobilization for Democracy, a group dedicated to raising awareness of the patriotism of the Japanese Americans.

The artist was not part of any particular movement; he was more interested in collaborating with artists coming from different fields. In the meantime, his stage sets for Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, George Balanchine, and composer John Cage made him an important figure on the American art scene. Noguchi was also engaged with the mass-production of his designs, numerous other projects of playgrounds and gardens, and in 1985 he even opened The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum that serves as a prime example of his treatment of public spaces.

Now, to take a closer look at Noguchi’s intriguing practice, we decided to feature six of his most exciting artworks, including Floor Frame, to show the full splendid of his creative vision.

Featured image: A photo of Isamu Noguchi taken in 1950 or 1951 by Jun Miki. Image creative commons.

Floor Frame

We begin with the White House star, Floor Frame, made by Isamu Noguchi in 1962. The sculpture, representing the artist's own articulation of form reduction, was cast in bronze and black patina. with one larger part diving into the ground with an edge rising up, and a smaller piece rising up again.

Floor Frame was acquired by the White House’s Collection for the sum of $125,000 at a Sotheby’s auction in March and was installed on the white concrete floor in the Rose Garden, part of the White House complex. This is officially the first artwork by an Asian American in the White House Collection.

Featured image: Isamu Noguchi - Floor Frame. The White House Rose Garden, Credit White House Historical Association.

Zwillingsplastik

The sculpture called Zwillingsplastik was produced in 1972 by Noguchi in Munich’s Tucherpark sculpture garden, part of the public gardens of HypoVereinsbank next to the Eisbach river. This expressive artwork consisting of two individual cube shapes was made in joined effort with the architect Sep Ruf. The sculpture belongs to the art collection of the HypoVereinsbank.

Featured image: Isamu Noguchi - Zwillingsplastik, Naturstein, 1972. Tucherpark, München. Image creative commons.

Octetra

The third Noguchi sculpture on our list is called Octetra, now installed near the Spoleto Cathedral in Italy in 1968. Initially cast in reinforced concrete and then re-made in fiberglass and installed at numerous venues across the world, this sculpture is reminiscent of Buckminster Fuller's Octahedron and Dymaxion design from 1943. Octetra was designed by Isamu Noguchi as a play sculpture, but due to its exceptional artistic quality, it could stand side to side to any modern sculpture in an outdoor sculpture garden.

Featured image: Isamu Noguchi – Octetra, 1968. Image creative commons.

Black Sun

Led by the idea to create a fluid and timeless form that would appear to move as the sun does, Isamu Noguchi produced Black Sun in 1969. This astounding large-scale granite artwork, a gift donated to the City of Seattle by the Seattle Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, is located in the Volunteer Park on the eastern edge of the man-made reservoir, across from the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Black Sun reflects Noguchi’s exploration of the circular form in public space.

Featured image: Isamu Noguchi - Black Sun. Image via artbeat.seattle.gov.

Playscapes

The last Isamu Noguchi project on our list is Playscapes, a playground erected in 1976 in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park. The artist was interested in projecting a playground already in the mid-1930s, but none of his designs during the decades were released until 1965 when the temporary Kodomo no Kuni playground was built outside of Tokyo.

After an employee at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta suggested the erection of a playground-artwork, the museum director decided to support the idea and present it as High Museum's gift to the city of Atlanta for the United States Bicentennial. Noguchi was commissioned officially in 1975 to create the project, now remaining the only Noguchi playground made before his death in 1988.

Featured image: Isamu Noguchi - Playscapes, Piedmont Park, Atlanta, 1975–1976. Image via Pinterest.

California Scenario

Between 1979 and 1982, Isamu Noguchi created one of a kind sculpture garden and the most important outdoor sculpture oasis in Southern California simply called California Scenario. The unity consisting of six principal elements (Forest Walk, Land Use, Desert Land, Water Source, Water Use, and Energy Fountain) culminates with 15 rust-colored granite rocks sculpture titled The Spirit of the Lima Bean, and is a result of the artist’s friendship with the Segerstrom family. The design of the Noguchi Garden indicates geographical characteristics of California, as it includes indigenous material and plants.

California Scenario by Isamu Noguchi

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