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Isamu Noguchi


Isamu Noguchi (野口 勇, November 17, 1904 – December 30, 1988) was a prominent Japanese American artist and landscape architect whose artistic career spanned six decades, from the 1920s onward.  Known for his sculpture and public works, Noguchi also designed stage sets for various Martha Graham productions, and several mass-produced lamps and furniture pieces, some of which are still manufactured and sold.
 
In 1947, Noguchi began a collaboration with the Herman Miller company, when he joined with George Nelson, Paul László and Charles Eames to produce a catalog containing what is often considered to be the most influential body of modern furniture ever produced, including the iconic Noguchi table which remains in production today. His work lives on around the world and at the Noguchi Museum in New York City.

 
Life & Education
Isamu Noguchi was born in Los Angeles, the illegitimate son of Yone Noguchi, a Japanese poet who was acclaimed in the United States, and Léonie Gilmour, an American writer who edited much of Noguchi's work. He was given the name Isamu (勇, "courage"). 
 
In 1918, Noguchi was sent back to the U.S. for schooling in Rolling Prairie, Indiana. After graduation, he left with Dr. Edward Rumely to LaPorte, where he found boarding with a Swedenborgian pastor, Samuel Mack. Noguchi began attending La Porte High School, graduating in 1922. During this period of his life, he was known by the name "Sam Gilmour. After high school, Noguchi explained his desire to become an artist to Rumely; though he preferred that Noguchi become a doctor, he acknowledged Noguchi's request and sent him to Connecticut to work as an apprentice to his friend Gutzon Borglum. Best known as the creator of Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Borglum was at the time working on the group called Wars of America for the city of Newark, New Jersey, a piece that includes forty two figures and two equestrian sculptures. As one of Borglum's apprentices, Noguchi received little training as a sculptor; his tasks included arranging the horses and modeling for the monument as General Sherman. He did, however, pick up some skills in casting from Borglum's Italian assistants, later fashioning a bust of Abraham Lincoln. At summer's end, Borglum told Noguchi that he would never become a sculptor, prompting him to reconsider Rumely's prior suggestion.
 
After moving into his own studio, Noguchi found work through commissions for portrait busts, he won the Logan Medal of the arts. During this time, he frequented avant garde shows at the galleries of such modernists as Alfred Stieglitz and J. B. Neuman, and took a particular interest in a show of the works of Romanian sculptor Constantin Brâncuși.
 
Noguchi arrived in Paris in April 1927 and soon afterward met the American author Robert McAlmon, who brought him to Constantin Brâncuși's studio for an introduction. Despite a language barrier between the two artists (Noguchi barely spoke French, and Brâncuși did not speak English), Noguchi was taken in as Brâncuși's assistant for the next seven months. During this time, Noguchi gained his footing in stone sculpture, a medium with which he was unacquainted, though he would later admit that one of Brâncuși's greatest teachings was to appreciate "the value of the moment." Meanwhile, Noguchi found himself in good company in France, with letters of introduction from Michio Itō helping him to meet such artists as Jules Pascin and Alexander Calder, who lived in the studio of Arno Breker. They became friends and Breker did a bronze bust of Noguchi.
 
In February 1929, he left for New York City. Brâncuși had recommended that Noguchi visit Romany Marie's café in Greenwich Village. Noguchi did so and there met Buckminster Fuller, with whom he collaborated on several projects, including the modeling of Fuller's Dymaxion car.
 
Noguchi left for Paris in April 1930, and two months later received his visa to ride the Trans-Siberian Railway. He opted to visit Japan first rather than India, but after learning that his father Yone did not want his son to visit using his surname, a shaken Noguchi instead departed for Peking. In China, he studied brush painting with Qi Baishi, staying for six months before finally sailing for Japan.Even before his arrival in Kobe, Japanese newspapers had picked up on Noguchi's supposed reunion with his father; though he denied that this was the reason for his visit, the two did meet in Tokyo. He later arrived in Kyoto to study pottery with Uno Jinmatsu. Here he took note of local Zen gardens and haniwa, clay funerary figures of the Kofun era which inspired his terra cotta The Queen.
same year he produced the set for Frontier, the first of many set designs for Martha Graham.
 
After the Federal Art Project started up, Noguchi again put forth designs, one of which was another earthwork chosen for the New York City airport entitled Relief Seen from the Sky; following further rejection, Noguchi left for Hollywood, where he again worked as a portrait sculptor to earn money for a sojourn in Mexico. Here, Noguchi was chosen to design his first public work, a relief mural for the Abelardo Rodriguez market in Mexico City. The 20-meter-long History as Seen from Mexico in 1936 was hugely political and socially conscious, featuring such modern symbols as the Nazi swastika, a hammer and sickle, and the equation E = mc². Noguchi also met Frida Kahlo during this time and had a brief but passionate affair with her; they remained friends until her death.
 
In the ensuing years he gained in prominence and acclaim, leaving his large-scale works in many of the world's major cities. He was briefly married to the ethnic-Japanese icon of Chinese song and cinema Yoshiko Ōtaka (known by the stage-name Li Hsiang-lan between 1951 and 1956.
 
Isamu Noguchi died on December 30, 1988 at the age of 84. In its obituary for Noguchi, the New York Times called him "a versatile and prolific sculptor whose earthy stones and meditative gardens bridging East and West have become landmarks of 20th-century art."
 
Legacy
The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum is devoted to the preservation, documentation, presentation, and interpretation of the work of Isamu Noguchi. It is supported by a variety of public and private funding bodies. The U.S. copyright representative for the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum is the Artists Rights Society. In 2012, it was announced that, in order to reduce liability, Noguchi's catalogue raisonné will be published as an online-only, ever-modifiable work-in-progress.
 
Gallery
Isamu Noguchi Table