france's first retrospective of 'total artist' isamu noguchi opens at musée LaM

france's first retrospective of 'total artist' isamu noguchi opens at musée LaM

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isamu noguchi: sculpting the world

 

In celebration of its 40th anniversary, the LaM is hosting France’s first extensive retrospective dedicated to Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988). As a prominent 20th-century artist, sculptor, and designer, Noguchi blended traditional craftsmanship with groundbreaking modernity and was a relentless traveler, constantly bridging the gap between arts, cultures, and East and West.

 

Featuring over 250 pieces — including sculptures, drawings, design objects, performing arts, and photographs — the LaM’s exhibition is a remarkable event in terms of both its size and the diverse topics it showcases. This exhibition encourages visitors to rediscover the multifaceted body of work created by an artist who may still be relatively unknown in Europe, but who has left a lasting impact on history.

 

For me, you know, all this story of experimental art started in Paris,’ wrote Isamu Noguchi.

isamu noguchi musée lamLouise Dahl Wolfe, Portrait d’Isamu Noguchi, 1955 | image © Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona Foundation / The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / New York / ARS ADAGP, 2023

 

 

art beyond borders

 

The exhibition Isamu Noguchi: Sculpting the World will be on view at Musée LaM until July 2nd, 2023. The artist, son of American writer Leonie Gilmour and Japanese poet Yonejiro Noguchi, was trained by Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum as a teenager. In 1927, he moved to Paris and became the assistant of Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi. Noguchi befriended avant-garde artists, including Alexander Calder, and continued to travel and create art across a wide range of mediums throughout his life, becoming the archetype of the ‘total artist.’ He gained recognition in 1950s America, participating in the influential exhibitions that are featured in LaM’s exhibition itinerary.

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Isamu Noguchi, Globular, 1928. The Noguchi Museum Archives | image by Kevin Noble
image © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ADAGP, Paris, 2023

 

 

art at the heart of society

 

Influenced by the events and racism he experienced in both Japan and the United States, Isamu Noguchi viewed his artistic creations as a means to explore his identity and promote social activism by connecting people. After the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Noguchi voluntarily entered Poston in Arizona, one of the largest internment camps for Japanese-Americans. While there, he aimed to enhance the living conditions for detainees by working on various projects, such as designing a park and recreational area.

 

However, it was truly during the 1930s, due to the New Deal’s initiative to support artists, that Noguchi began delving into public spatial design and landscape. He created a playground space shaped by the earth itself, which foreshadowed his later work on environmental and garden art, including his Jardin de la Paix (Garden of Peace). This particular piece was designed for the new UNESCO headquarters in Paris and was unveiled in 1958.

isamu noguchi musée lam
Isamu Noguchi, Pregnant Bird, 1958. The Noguchi Museum Archives | image by Kevin Noble
image © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ADAGP, Paris, 2023

 

 

Aside from public spaces, Noguchi had also a keen interest in designing functional objects. He is best known for creating the iconic Akari lamps, which are celebrated globally for their design. First manufactured in 1952, these lamps are made from washi paper on bamboo frames and showcase a fusion of traditional Japanese art and modern forms. To broaden his expertise, Isamu Noguchi designed various everyday objects such as the first electronic baby monitor, organically shaped tables, and futuristic car prototypes.

isamu noguchi musée lam
Isamu Noguchi, Avatar, 1947. The Noguchi Museum Archives | image by Kevin Noble
image © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ADAGP, Paris, 2023

 

 

‘beyond the art of objects’

 

Noguchi was captivated by the connection between sculpture, space, and the body, highlighted by his numerous partnerships with the theater and dance industries. In 1926, he entered this performance realm, collaborating initially with Michio Ito, a pioneer of modern dance, and designing theatrical masks for him. Noguchi later worked with American choreographer Ruth Page in 1932. However, his strongest ties to the dance industry were established through his involvement in creating sets and costumes for over twenty productions by Martha Graham. She became a close friend, and they worked together for nearly three decades.

 

I have never subscribed to the idea that sculptures are just sculptures and not something that is a tool. These are symbolic or gestural tools Martha was using. They were an extension of her body,’ asserts the artist, who also collaborated with George Balanchine, Yuriko, Erick Hawkins and Merce Cunningham.

isamu noguchi musée lam
Isamu Noguchi, The Inner Stone, 1973, The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum | image by Kevin Noble
image © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ADAGP, Paris, 2023

 

 

Noguchi engaged with this same body when renowned photographers like Lee Miller and Arnold Newman would have him pose privately in his studio, where he transformed into a sculpture among other sculptures. As a true intersection between the East and West, Noguchi dismantles artistic boundaries and classifications, representing an open, unrestricted perspective of art that continues to impact contemporary creation today.

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Isamu Noguchi, Play Mountain, 1933, The Noguchi Museum Archives | image by Kevin Noble
image © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ADAGP, Paris, 2023

 

The exhibition at the LaM is the first large-scale event dedicated to Isamu Noguchi in France. The result of a close relationship with the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum in New York, this French project explores new aspects of the artist’s work and concludes an international tour taking in the Barbican Centre in London (under the curatorship of Florence Ostende), the Ludwig Museum in Cologne (under the curatorship of Rita Kersting), and the Zentrum Paul Klee in Berne (under the curatorship of Fabienne Eggelhöfer).

isamu noguchi musée lam
Vytas Valaitis, Portrait d’Isamu Noguchi, 1961 | image © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ADAGP, Paris, 2023

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Isamu Noguchi teste Slide Mantra devant l’exposition ‘Isamu Noguchi: what is sculpture?’ Biennale de Venise, 1986, The Noguchi Museum Archives | image by Michio Noguchi

image © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ADAGP, Paris, 2023

 

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Isamu Noguchi, 'Leida,' 1928. The Noguchi Museum Archives | image by Kevin Noble image © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ADAGP, Paris, 2023
Isamu Noguchi, 'Leida,' 1928. The Noguchi Museum Archives | image by Kevin Noble image © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ADAGP, Paris, 2023
Isamu Noguchi, 'Lunar Infant,' 1944. The Noguchi Museum Archives | image by Kevin Noble image © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ADAGP, Paris, 2023
Isamu Noguchi, 'Lunar Infant,' 1944. The Noguchi Museum Archives | image by Kevin Noble image © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ADAGP, Paris, 2023
Isamu Noguchi, Buson, 1952, The Noguchi Museum Archives | image by Kevin Noble image © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ADAGP, Paris, 2023
Isamu Noguchi, Buson, 1952, The Noguchi Museum Archives | image by Kevin Noble image © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ADAGP, Paris, 2023
Isamu Noguchi, 'Suzanne Ziegler,' 1932. The Noguchi Museum Archives | image by Kevin Noble image © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ADAGP, Paris, 2023
Isamu Noguchi, 'Suzanne Ziegler,' 1932. The Noguchi Museum Archives | image by Kevin Noble image © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ADAGP, Paris, 2023
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project info:

 

exhibition title: Isamu Noguchi: Sculpting the World

location: Musée LaM@museelam

on view: March 15th — July 2nd, 2023

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