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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Isamu Noguchi

Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) was born in Los Angeles, the son of an Irish-American mother and a Japanese father.  He spent his childhood in Japan and his adolescence and adulthood in the United States, and for the rest of his life, he was at home in both places.

Noguchi moved to New York to become a pre-med student at Columbia University, where he also enrolled in a sculpture class.  Art won out, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1927 led to an apprenticeship in the studio of Constantin Brancusi.  When he returned to New York, associations with technological visionary Buckminster Fuller and choreographer Martha Graham allowed him to explore new facets of his talent.

His first widely distributed design was the Radio Nurse of 1937, and the later Guardian Ear, an object containing a microphone, would pick up sounds from a child’s room.  In 1944 he revised a design he had created to illustrate the George Nelson article “How to Make a Table.” The biomorphic coffee table was put into production in 1947 by Herman Miller and became one of his best-known works.

His famous three-legged cylinder lamp was first made as a gift for his sister in 1944 or 1945.  He began designing his beautiful Akari lamps in 1951, which are still manufactured in Gifu, Japan, by the same company that began producing them in the early 1950s.  His wire and wood rocking stools were designed in 1953, and in 1957 Hans Knoll enlarged the small stool to the full-size Cyclone Table as a companion piece to Harry Bertoia’s wire chairs.

From the Fifties on, Noguchi’s focus was on what he called “the sculpture of spaces,” and he designed gardens, playgrounds and plazas.

From the essay “Isamu Noguchi: Art Into Life” by Bruce Altshuler on
Photos from

Isamu Noguchi, 1951

Bakelite Radio Nurse, 1937
Manufactured by the Zenith Radio Company

Cloud sofa and ottoman, c. 1948
Manufactured by Herman Miller

Custom beech table for William A. M. Burden, 1948

Rocking Stools, 1955
Manufactured by Knoll

Coffee table, 1944
Manufactured by Herman Miller

Cyclone table, 1957
Manufactured by Knoll

Akari floor lamps, 1950s
Manufactured in Gifu, Japan

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