Isamu Noguchi

Isamu Noguchi

Fellow: Awarded 1927
Field of Study: Fine Arts
Fellow: Awarded 1928
Field of Study: Fine Arts

Competition: US & Canada

Isamu Noguchi, the preeminent Japanese-American sculptor, was just twenty-three years old when he received a Guggenheim Fellowship.   Mr. Noguchi was born in California in 1904 and moved to Japan with his mother, Leonie Gilmour, and his father, Japanese poet Yone Noguchi, during his youth.  He returned to the United States as a teenager and, after briefly enrolling in Columbia’s pre-med program, decided to pursue sculpting full-time.  In New York he studied under sculptor Onorio Ruotolo, exhibited work at the National Academy of Design, and regularly visited Alfred Stieglitz’s Intimate Gallery before applying for a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1927.  Mr. Noguchi was awarded a two-year fellowship term to study sculpture in Paris, and Asian and Indian visual culture in England.

Mr. Noguchi is best known for his powerful evocations of the organic in abstract works, and stated his intent in his Fellowship application to explore nature as the inspiration for sculptural representation.  During his Fellowship term he studied under famed avant-garde sculptor Constantin Brancusi in Paris.  In 1929 he returned to the United States and began sculpting portraits for a living.  Somewhat dissatisfied with this work, he moved to Mexico City in the mid-1930s and began producing socially conscious pieces, including a massive concrete mural in collaboration with Diego Rivera in 1936.  He was later commissioned to execute his own works of monumental sculpture, including the 1938 stainless steel

sculpture News for the entrance of The Associated Press Building in New York. 

During WWII, Mr. Noguchi voluntarily entered a Japanese internment camp located on a reservation in Arizona to support artistic creativity there on behalf of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  Following the war, Mr. Noguchi returned to New York and continued working on unique projects spanning a number of artistic mediums, including theater and set designs, memorial bridges, sculpture gardens, and reinvented Japanese lanterns.  In 1985 he established his own museum and sculpture garden, the Noguchi Museum, in Long Island City, Queens. Towards the end of his life he divided his time between the United States, Japan, Italy, and several other countries on an annual basis.  He died of heart failure in December 1988 in New York, at eighty-four years old.

Isamu Noguchi is regarded as one of the most distinguished sculptors of the twentieth century.  During an impressive career spanning more than six decades, Mr. Noguchi

worked in mediums ranging from stone and clay to steel and concrete.  Later in his professional career, he became highly interested in exploring the fusion of architecture

and sculpture.  His work often combined Japanese aesthetics with modernist sensibilities

in unique, inventive ways.  He was acclaimed for evoking what he regarded as the spiritual essence inherent in natural materials.  Mr. Noguchi worked on projects as diverse as theater sets for Martha Graham and John Cage, garden and landscape architecture for sites around the world, and furniture design.  He received a Gold Medal from the American Institute of Arts and Letters and a New York Architectural League Gold Medal, among other honors.  During his lifetime his work was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Center of American Art in New York, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and the Venice Biennale. Mr. Noguchi’s numerous commissions include sculpture gardens for the UNESCO building in Paris, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, and the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York.  His work is held in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Tate Britain in London, and the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo. 

For more information on the life and work of Isamu Noguchi:

PBS: American Masters

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