Exhibition Background and Overview Noguchi Archaic / Noguchi Modern has two sources of inspiration outside Noguchi’s work. The first is an association that developed in the middle of the 20th century between the Stone Age and the Atomic Era when—after Hiroshima and Nagasaki—it seemed inevitable that atom smashing would culminate in our bombing ourselves back into the Stone Age.
The second inspiration is the monolith at the center of Stanley Kubrik’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which closely resembles both an Egyptian stele and an iPhone. Largely staged in clean, simple spaces—either black and limitless (outer space) or white and rectilinear (the interior of a space ship)—2001 helped establish the science fiction motif that our departure from Earth in the future will be signaled, precipitated, or impacted by a mysterious Euclidian object probably left here by visitors sometime in the distant past. The further you go into the past or the future, the simpler the design of everything appears to become.
These two wormholes—technology, which helps us progress but when misused can just as easily return us to a primitive state, and simplicity as a design imperative—seem to link the ancient past and the distant future in Noguchi’s work. In order to illustrate how these opposite ends of time are manifested in the artist’s work, sometimes distinctly and identifiably, but often blending seamlessly together, the exhibition is organized into four sections: Home Chapel and Space; Archaic or Modern; Atomic Apocalypse; and The Timeless Landscape.
Home Chapel and Space On view in the exhibition’s first gallery is a selection of Noguchi’s columns surrounding one of his Japanese garden basins, Tsukubai (1962), giving the space a chapel-like feeling mixed with a modern living room. Hanging orbit-like Akari Light Sculptures and abstract basalt and granite sculptures such as Nameless(1982–83) and Re-Entry Cone (1970) also evoke an otherworldly yet eternal quality. Noguchi’s fascination with outer space—from the engineering required to get there to the composition, and shape of everything in it—coincides with his interest in the juxtaposition of old and new, as space is often associated with a sort of science fiction future, while the objects within space are billions of years old.
Archaic or Modern
Noguchi’s ability to invoke the ancient history of art while conjuring the future continues to be evident in the second grouping of the exhibition, Archaic or Modern. Untitled (c. 1957) is a small, Cycladic-inspired marble sculpture that Noguchi has updated into a modern capsule-like form. Also on view is Baby Figure(1958), a medium-sized version of a shape Noguchi made several times. Fabricated from sheet aluminum and anodized in gold, this work harkens back to the gleaming cult figures around which many Greek temples in the classical era were built. The extreme abstraction of the figure renders her appearance as more futuristic than archaic, however, she too is rooted in ancient sculpture—specifically, the dancing clay Tanagra Figurines of 4th century BCE Boetia.
Nowhere do the Stone Age and the future overlap more completely than in the paradoxes of the Atomic Age, which gave us both the moon landing and the massacres at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Noguchi’s attraction to technology’s potential—the beneficial and the disastrous—is represented in the third gallery,Atomic Apocalypse. Four Atomic Haystacks (three galvanized steel and one bronze) from 1982–83 are scattered throughout the room, along with the iron mask Okame (Atomic Man), 1954, Noguchi’s play on the Japanese theatre mask that originally represented beauty but later developed a distorted and comic quality. Also on view is a granite head of Vishnu (c. 1968), the Hindu deity known as creator and destroyer, often called the formless one, a subject that exemplifies Noguchi’s interest in the complexity of ideas.
|The Timeless Landscape
The final section of the exhibition focuses on how Noguchi emulated the earth and its timeless quality by employing design that mimics nature’s constructs. Noguchi’s variations on the subject of the peak are evident in the layered landscape created in this gallery, which is at once full of nostalgia for the remembered Mt. Fuji of the artist’s childhood and teeming with ideas for shaping a more perfect earth. Some highlights include the aluminum wall sculpture Cloud (1959), the Persian travertine sculpture The Mountain (1964), which almost appears to be a sideways heart, and Roof Frame, a shiny stainless-steel, pyramid-shaped sculpture from 1974–75.
Occupying a renovated industrial building dating from the 1920s, The Noguchi Museum, founded by the artist for the display of his work, comprises ten indoor galleries and an internationally celebrated outdoor sculpture garden. Since its founding in 1985, the museum—itself widely viewed as among the artist’s greatest achievements—has exhibited a comprehensive selection of sculpture in stone, metal, wood, and clay, as well as models for public projects and gardens, dance sets, and Noguchi’s Akari Light Sculptures. Thought-provoking and frequently changing installations of the permanent collection together with the Museum’s diverse special exhibitions offer a rich, contextualized view of Noguchi’s work and illuminate his influential legacy of innovation.
For more information: www.noguchi.org.