ISAMU NOGUCHI; the Sculptor of Dualism

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 19, 2005 | Go to article overview

ISAMU NOGUCHI; the Sculptor of Dualism


Byline: Joanna Shaw-Eagle, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

American museums rarely accorded the Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) major exhibi- tions, but the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden has gone a long way toward rectifying that neglect with "Isamu Noguchi: Master Sculptor," a rich display of 54 sculptures and 25 works on paper. The first exhibit in 30 years to focus on his sculpture explores both the philosophic and artistic scope of his six-decade career.

Exhibit curator Valerie J. Fletcher cites as her primary goal the revelation of the metaphysical dualism in the artist's work. In this, she has succeeded admirably, illuminating the extraordinary balance and synthesis that form the core of the artist's vision.

Spotting the polarities in Mr. Noguchi's art - light and dark, verticals and horizontals, circles and squares, influences from Eastern and Western philosophies, among many - is not always easy. Given this difficulty and the fact that the exhibit provides just a scant three explanatory wall labels, visitors are likely to find the free exhibit brochure an indispensable guide.

The first gallery's huge stone sculpture, "To Bring to Life" (1979), is a good example of the dualities through which the artist conveyed his meaning. The contrast between its rough, rust-colored surface and hard, smooth inner core probably was intended by the artist as a metaphor for the physical and spiritual.

The son of an American teacher and Japanese poet, Mr. Noguchi was raised in Los Angeles. He studied art in Paris in the late 1920s with renowned sculptor Constantin Brancusi. Mr. Noguchi adopted his mentor's biomorphic, abstract forms in the late '20s, calling them his "Paris Abstractions."

In 1930, Mr. Noguchi began what would become frequent travels abroad with short stays in Moscow, Beijing and Kyoto, Japan. During his stay in Japan, he learned traditional Eastern brush painting and calligraphy, although you would never know it from the Matisse-like drawings he was producing at the time. He also studied Japanese ceramics during this period. His impressively tall sculpture "Queen" (1931) synthesizes influences from both early Haniwa Japanese burial figures and Western surrealist art.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Mr. Noguchi underwent voluntary imprisonment in an internment camp for Japanese Americans in the hope of exploiting his design expertise to improve camp living conditions. …

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