03/29/2018

The Noguchi Museum

By Dora Dmitriev

Located in Long Island City, Queens, the Noguchi Museum displays the sculptures, furniture, and lighting designs of Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988). Over his lifetime, he created a wide variety of pieces experimenting with steel, marble, iron, stone, wood, paper, and water. One of the most influential sculptors and designers of the twentieth century, Noguchi was inspired by his travels and Japanese background. The range of Noguchi’s work encompasses subtle, bold, traditional, and modern elements, continuing to inspire designers today.

The Noguchi Sculpture garden

"To Darkness" in Miharu granite, 1965-66

Indoor gallery with stone sculptures

The museum was designed and founded by Noguchi, built around a former 1920s gas station, and includes indoor and outdoor galleries, and a beautiful garden that displays some of his sculptures. A significant part of the collection is Noguchi’s granite and basalt sculptures which were his last large body of work. The mechanics of chance, embracing mistakes instead of erasing them, and the uniqueness of each boulder made working with stone Noguchi’s most challenging material. He referred to stone "as the affection of old men" for this reason.

Textured stone sculptures at museum entrance

"Age" in Basalt, 1981

Indoor gallery with marble and polished stone sculptures

The collection of stone sculptures shows Noguchi’s formal and more conceptual modes. In some of his work one can see that a lot of time was spent engaging the stone and really transforming it from its original piece, polishing it and "perfecting it". Other sculptures utilize the existing boulder’s imperfections and capitalize on them, adding more textures and embracing the cracks and holes of the weathered surfaces.

Front "Ding Dong Bat" 1969 with "Downward Pulling" 1972 and "The Opening" 1970 in the background

For me, the most captivating part of the museum was the lighting sculptures. Variations of Akari style lanterns have grown popular, available in many places in different shapes and colors. These famous collapsible lanterns made of washi paper and bamboo ribbing were further developed and modernized by Noguchi. Having been raised in Japan until his teen years, Noguchi grew up surrounded by the centuries-old craft tradition of making these light sculptures. One big innovation was the application of electricity to what used to be candle lit paper lanterns. He went on to develop new systems and styles for the Akari light. 

Wooden drum with ridges to hold bamboo ribbing in place when making Akari lanterns

Inside of lantern showing bamboo ribbing

Light installation with wooden walkway and Akari light

Hanging Akari lanterns

Ymer & Malta is another Akari light collection on view at the museum. Over the past nine years, founder Valérie Maltaverne has transformed the craft and style of Akari lights. By working with five designers to produce six designs with Akari principles, the international collaboration has now produced 26 light fixtures, expanding on Noguchi’s Akari lanterns.

Belle de Jour by YMER &MALTA/Océane Delain

EdaLight by YMER & Malta/ Benjamin Graindorge