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Transcript of Isamu Noguchi
Academic Sculpture In 1924, while a pre-medical student at Columbia University, Isamu Noguchi was encouraged by his mother to take an evening class with sculptor Onorio Ruotolo at the Leonardo da Vinci School of Art on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Trained as a figurative sculptor Noguchi achieved immediate success, holding his first exhibition at the school within three months and in the next three years exhibiting sculpture at the National Academy of Design and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In his own studio at 127 University Place Noguchi modeled figures in clay and plaster, including the tour de force of his academic style, Undine (Nadja). Public Sculpture During the 1930s Noguchi began his life-long quest to make sculpture useful to the general public. In 1936 Noguchi traveled to Mexico City to realize his first public sculpture, a 72-foot long carved brick relief, History Mexico. Noguchi proposed a number of works for the 1939 New York World's Fair, and his Chassis Fountain was constructed at the Ford Motor Company pavilion. He completed the decade by creating a 9-ton stainless steel relief sculpture for the entrance to the Associated Press Building at Rockefeller Center, News. After the war Noguchi created a large number of public sculptures, including Red Cube (New York), Black Sun (Seattle), Portal (Cleveland), Landscape of Time (Seattle) and Sky Gate (Honolulu) as well as fountains and landscape projects. Portrait Heads Returning to New York from Paris, Noguchi exhibited his new abstract sculpture at the Eugene Schoen Gallery in April 1929. When nothing sold he abandoned abstraction and employed his early academic skills to make portrait sculpture, sculpting the heads of the wealthy for income and those of fellow artists and acquaintances for friendship. Noguchi would sculpt close to 120 portrait heads in his career, supporting himself primarily by portrait commissions through the Depression years. Light Sculpture Isamu Noguchi first envisioned illuminated sculpture in a model for a neon work in the late 1920s, and then in his 1933 design of a Musical Weathervane. But it was in the 1940s that he created his first sculptures of this kind, which he called Lunars. Biomorphic Sculpture From the time of his premedical studies Isamu Noguchi had been fascinated by biological forms, and he would employ biomorphic imagery throughout his career. His first abstract sculptures of 1927-28 were characterized by both organic and geometric forms. When he returned to abstraction in the 1940s Noguchi was highly influenced by the biomorphic imagery of European Surrealism. Biomorphism also dominated Noguchi's furniture designs of this period, and he continued to employ biomorphism in his landscape projects of the 1950s and 1960s. Geometric Sculpture Isamu Noguchi maintained a deep interest in science and the humanistic use of technology. Geometric imagery appeared alongside organic forms in his first abstract sculptures, done in Paris in 1927-28, and it would continue to appear in Noguchi's work throughout his career. Noguchi's use of geometric forms involved a range of associations, from the pyramid structures of the ancient world to the circular enso of Zen painting and the rectilinear forms of Brancusi's Endless Column . In addition to his freestanding sculptures, Noguchi's gardens and landscapes often employ geometrical forms as basic elements. Voids Among the Noguchi sculptures that are variations on a single theme, the most dramatic works employ the image of the void. Noguchi began the void series in Italy in 1970 with In Silence Walking, but it was in Japan that he created the largest work of this kind, Energy Void. Folded and Bent Metal Sculpture Among Isamu Noguchi's earliest abstract sculptures are works of highly polished sheets of brass, made in Paris in 1927-28 following his apprenticeship with Constantin Brancusi. Noguchi again used sheet metal on returning to New York in 1958 after completing his garden at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, viewing aluminum as a representative American material. In the factory of lighting designer Edison Price, Noguchi created sculptures from single sheets of folded metal, a kind of modernist origami. Table and Landscape Sculptures Some of these works sit directly on the ground, and others are placed on elevated bases to form table-like sculptures. Noguchi also carved table sculptures of marble in Italy. Later Stone Sculpture In the late 1960s Isamu Noguchi established a studio in Japan, and here he carved the large granite and basalt sculptures that culminated his career. In Noguchi's late work stone became a symbol of nature, and carving became a metaphor for the human confrontation with the temporal, for our intersection with historical, geological and astronomical time. Although a number of these works are smoothly polished, most of the late sculptures have large areas of unworked surface, presenting the stone as it emerged from the earth. Italian Marble Sculpture Noguchi first worked in Italy in 1962, when he made bronze casts of balsa wood and clay sculptures. In Pietrasanta, and later in Querceta, Noguchi carved marble using both hand and power tools. In one group of sculptures Noguchi assembled bands of colored marble. It also was in Italy in 1966 that Noguchi first made sculptures in which large parts of the stone were left unworked. Play Sculpture The creation of playgrounds and play sculpture was an important part of Isamu Noguchi's attempt to make sculpture useful in everyday life. Noguchi designed his first pieces of play equipment in 1939, but these were not constructed. Playscapes (1975-76) in Atlanta's Piedmont Park is the only Noguchi playground to be completed in his lifetime. In 1968 Octetra -- a pre-cast, modular play sculpture over and through which children climb -- was installed outside the cathedral in Spoleto, Italy and in Kodomo No Kuni park outside of Tokyo. Noguchi continued to design new play sculptures, some of which have been installed in his last playground project, Moere Numa Park in Sapporo, Japan.
Made of magnesite enclosing light bulbs, these sculptures employed the biomorphic curves of Surrealism, and took the form of both reliefs and freestanding sculptures. Noguchi's most well-known light sculptures, however, are his line of Akari lamps, fabricated of mulberry paper and bamboo. Isamu Noguchi's interest in the landscape generated individual sculptures as well as gardens and playgrounds. Beginning in 1968 at his studio in Japan, Noguchi began a group of horizontal sculptures of granite, miniature landscapes that condense distance in the manner of the Zen meditation garden. Paris Abstractions Discontent with academic sculpture, Isamu Noguchi frequented New York's more progressive galleries, and in December 1926 his ambitions were transformed by the exhibition of abstract sculpture by Constantin Brancusi at the Brummer Gallery. Noguchi applied for and was awarded a three-year Guggenheim Fellowship to study modern sculpture in Paris, to be followed by work in India, China and Japan. Soon after arriving in Paris in March 1927 he became an assistant to Brancusi, who taught Noguchi to carve wood and stone. He also drew from the model in the academies, and after leaving Brancusi in late 1927 he established his own studio and created a significant body of abstract drawings and sculpture.