"Appreciate the moment."
~ Isamu Noguchi
I have this idea that Isamu Noguchi lived his life in an artistic state of grace. Sculpture, painting, landscape design, sets and costumes for dance and theater, furniture design and more — his story is chapter after chapter of invention and creation. Whatever he took on, he did with stunning originality. He was also a very beautiful man, as is evident in this photo of the artist in his youth by Berenice Abbott.
The Noguchi Museum is located in a former photo-engraving plant across the street from Costco in Long Island City, Queens. It was designed by Noguchi toward the end of his life and opened three years before his death in 1988. Its out-of-the way location — a nine- or ten-block walk from the nearest subway station (the Broadway stop on the N or Q) — makes it a place most tourists and even most New Yorkers never visit. And that is a shame.
As you walk through its cool stone interior, where the primary lighting is often just the sun filtering through a window or an opening in the ceiling, you feel the artist's guiding hand everywhere. It is tranquil, natural, graceful.
"On Becoming an Artist: Isamu Noguchi and His Contemporaries 1922-1960," is a revelatory exhibition that opened last week and runs through April 2011. Through photographs, letters, designs, sculptures and paintings, the show documents Noguchi's interactions and collaborations with an astonishing diversity of artists. There are painters and sculptors (e.g., Gutzon Borglum, Constantin Brancusi, Stuart Davis, Willem De Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera); photographers (e.g., Berenice Abbott, Man Ray, Alfred Stieglitz); dancers and choreographers (e.g., George Balanchine, Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, Erick Hawkins, Michio Ito, Ruth Page); designers and architects (Marcel Breuer, Buckminster Fuller, Louis Kahn, Shoji Sadao, Edward Durell Stone); and miscellaneous others from composer John Cage to actress Ginger Rodgers.
As I walked through the exhibition, a docent led a tour group a few steps ahead of me. She caught my attention when she began to talk about Noguchi's restlessness — whenever his career reached a new peak, he would move on to a different place and a different challenge. Restless, curious, prolific.
Photos are off-limits in the special exhibition, but allowed in the permanent galleries. Here's a small sample of what there is to see.
"The essence of sculpture is for me the perception of space, the continuum of our existence."
~ Isamu Noguchi