Isamu Noguchi (野口 勇) was an American artist and landscape architect, 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.
His extraordinary range of projects included playgrounds and plazas, furniture and gardens, the stone-carved busts, and Akari paper lights, so delicate they could be folded and put into an envelope. He also designed numerous stage sets for dancer-choreographer Martha Graham, who was as much an influence on him as was his mentor, Constantin Brancusi.
The architect had notable commissions include the gardens for the UNESCO Building in Paris, five fountains for the Supreme Court Building in Tokyo, and a high-relief mural for the Abelardo Rodriguez Market in Mexico City.
His relationship with Herman Miller came about when a design of his was used to illustrate an article written by George Nelson called "How to Make a Table." It became his famous "coffee table," originally introduced in 1947 and reissued in 1984.
Noguchi died in 1988 after a brilliant career that spanned more than six decades. For someone who was told by his first art teacher at age 15 that he'd "never be a sculptor," he left an amazing legacy. 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".
World War II period
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the backlash against Japanese-Americans in the United States had a dramatic personal effect on Noguchi, motivating him to become a political activist. In 1942, he started Nisei Writers and Artists Mobilization for Democracy, a group dedicated to raising awareness of the patriotism of Japanese-Americans. He also asked to be placed in an internment camp in Arizona, where he lived for a brief seven months. Following the War, Noguchi spent a great deal of time in Japan exploring the wrenching issues raised during the previous years. His ideas and feelings are reflected in his works of that period, particularly the delicate slab sculptures included in the 1946 exhibition “Fourteen Americans,” at The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Noguchi believed the sculptor's task was to shape space, to give it order and meaning, and that art should "disappear," or be as one with its surroundings. Perhaps it was his dual heritage—his father was a Japanese poet, his mother a Scottish-American writer—that resulted in his way of looking at the world with an eye for "oneness."
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