Isamu Noguchi

gigatos | March 29, 2022


Isamu Noguchi, (野口 勇 Noguchi Isamu?) (Los Angeles, November 17, 1904 – New York, December 30, 1988), was an American sculptor, architect, designer and set designer of Japanese descent.

Illegitimate son of Yone Noguchi, a Japanese poet, and Léonie Gilmour, an American writer who edited some editions of many of Yone Noguchi”s works. The latter, however, shortly after the birth of Isamu decides to break off the relationship with Gilmour, with the intention of marrying a reporter of the Washington Post, Ethel Armes; later learned of Léonie and their son and then also this last relationship of Yone failed in a few months, when he had already returned to Japan and was waiting to marry her. At this point he decided to go back with Gilmour, inviting her to live there with him and their son; she initially refused, only to reconsider the invitation and leave, in 1907, for Tokyo. Only upon their arrival, was, finally, given the name of Isamu (勇, “courage”) to the child. However, in the meantime Yone had found a wife in Japan, so he was almost always absent from Isamu”s childhood. After the umpteenth separation, the two moved several times in the land of the rising sun, until in 1912, in Chigasaki, his sister Ailes Gilmour was born, from an unknown father, destined to become one of the most important American dancers of the twentieth century. In 1918 Isamu returned to the United States, more precisely to Indiana, to study at Rolling Prairie; he then transferred to La Porte High School and graduated in 1922. Becoming assistant to the director of the Leonardo da Vinci School in New York, his interests began to turn towards sculpture, so that, in 1927, he won a scholarship from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, which will take him to Paris for two years to study with Constantin Brâncuși. After this experience, he travels to China and Japan studying the “art” of Zen gardens and experimenting with ceramics and calligraphic drawing. He exhibited for the first time in New York in 1928 and again in Japan in 1930; however, the first important commission did not arrive until 1936, the year in which his History of Mexico was erected in Mexico City, a colored concrete wall, also depicting in relief some of the most important symbols of modern history (from the Nazi swastika, to the equation E=mc²). Starting in 1935, he collaborated several times with the American dancer and choreographer Martha Graham for the sets of her creations. In Mexico, in the forties, he was a guest of his friend Wolfgang Paalen, with whom he shared an interest in the ancient civilization of the Olmecs.

In 1968, on the occasion of the XI Festival of Two Worlds, in the wake of the success of Sculptures in the City, an open-air exhibition in Spoleto, he wanted to offer the city a proposal by entrusting the architects Buckminster Fuller and Shoji Sadao with the realization of one of his projects, Octetra, a game for children and at the same time a work of art, made of cement painted red.

During his life he received numerous awards, to name a few: first prize at the Art Institute of Chicago (1959), honorary degree at Indiana University (member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Architectural League of New York. In 1985 the Noguchi Museum opened on Long Island, a room was dedicated to him at the Venice Biennale in 1986 and in 1988, the year of his death, he was awarded the third order of the sacred treasure by the Japanese government.

Noguchi matured his work first of all starting from the materials; initially for his sculptures (of a strong formal simplicity), he used only metal, but, during the war period, he widened his boundaries sometimes ranging in unusual materials such as stone, wood and bone. The turning point, however, occurs in the post-war period, when, came into contact with the Ikebana, grew his already present interest in Zen gardens, hence his openness to monumental art. In fact, back in the U.S., he undertook an experimentation of “naturalistic” type, and in the years to come will become known worldwide for his projects of public spaces (he will also be commissioned the Garden of Peace, for the headquarters, in Paris, UNESCO). He has established himself in the international art scene, even as a set designer, preparing the premiere of Stravinsky”s Orpheus and working with companies such as, for example, that of Martha Graham.


  1. Isamu Noguchi
  2. Isamu Noguchi
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