Who was Isamu Noguchi?

Isamu Noguchi was born in 1904 and became one of the significant sculptors of the 20th century. For those who love mid-20th century design, his name is bound to be well-known. He spent a career testing out new forms of artistic experimentation, creating stunning sculptures, gardens, furniture lighting design, ceramics and architecture. Noguchi’s work has been described as bold yet subtle, representing the modern yet remaining traditional and groundbreaking.

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Noguchi was a great traveller, with studios in both Japan and New York. He was of American-Japanese descent and found great inspiration from art right across the globe, including large-scale public works in Mexico, the ceramics and tranquil gardens of Japan, painting techniques refined in China, and the purity of marble in Italy. He put all these influences and inspiration into his work, which used a variety of materials, including marble, stainless steel, bronze, cast iron, balsa wood, water, aluminium sheet and granite.

Noguchi was born to a Japanese father and American mother in in Los Angeles. He lived in Japan until turning thirteen and then his family moved to Indiana. While studying, he took evening classes and enjoyed mentoring by sculptor Onorio Ruotolo. He soon left the university to become an academic sculptor.

Inspired by the forms of the old artists and philosophers, Noguchi turned to modernism and abstraction, embedding his highly finished pieces with lyrical and emotional expression, and an aura of mystery. One of his most iconic pieces was the Noguchi Coffee Table. If you’re looking for a timeless piece of furniture with elegance, look no further than a replica of the Noguchi Coffee Table from a site like Pash Classics.

Noguchi travelled extensively in Asia, Mexico, and Europe in the late 1920s through the 1930s and engaged in collaborative projects with a variety of notable artistic figures. Noguchi’s work was not well known in the United States until 1940, when he completed a large-scale sculpture that symbolized the freedom of the press and was commissioned in 1938 for the Associated Press building in Rockefeller Center in New York City. This is the first piece that projected him into global recognition. He went on to create pieces for playgrounds, plazas, gardens and fountains, all reflecting his belief in the social significance of sculpture.

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor during the 1940s, the reaction to Japanese Americans in the US had a dramatic effect on Noguchi’s personal life, motivating him to become a political activist. In 1942, he began Nisei Writers and Artists Mobilization for Democracy, a group dedicated to raising awareness of Japanese American patriotism; and voluntarily entered an internment camp in Arizona where he stayed for seven months. After being released, Noguchi set up a studio in New York City, where he returned to stone sculptures as well as productive exploration of new materials and methods.

Noguchi has never been classified as being strictly a member of one particular design or artistic movement, but collaborated widely with many different artists working in various movements and schools. His work lives on today, particularly through iconic furniture pieces which are still loved and admired, adorning many a modern property.