Unlike other sculptors, Isamu Noguchi (Los Angeles, United States, 1904 - New York, United States, 1988) has not revolutionised sculpture from itself, but has extended its field to include architecture and design in his own development. In disagreement with the concept that discriminates art from functionality, the sculptor with an American mother and Japanese father turns his creative efforts towards applying sculptural design principles to the point of considering both disciplines as interchangeable.
An exhibition in New York introduces him to the work of Constantin Brancusi in 1926. The deep impression made on him by the work of Romanian sculptor took him to Paris, where he had the opportunity to work for two years in his studio. His large scale work for public places and his collaboration on set design for choreographer Martha Graham bought him recognition in the United States during the Thirties. During the following years Noguchi employs his capacity to innovate with space in the design of chairs and tables that blur the boundaries between sculpture and furniture.
In 1951 he begins work on one of the most iconic designs of his career: Akari lamps. Using traditional Japanese materials as a base, Noguchi creates a light bamboo structure which he covers with mulberry bark paper achieving a soft light that will eventually become one of the emblems of interior design.
This exhibition gathers more than eighty of the sculptor’s pieces, in a spectacular staging designed by Robert Wilson and adapted to rooms in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía by María Fraile and Javier Revillo. The exhibition includes his early sculptural works of the late twenties -busts of Julien Levy and Buckminster Fuller -as well as the biomorphic or classically inspired sculptures created for Stravinsky's Orpheus choreographed by George Balanchine or Night Journey and Judith by Schuman and Errand into the Maze by Gian-Carlo Menotti, all choreographed by Martha Graham in the late forties, early fifties.
Of course, the Akari lamps are an essential part of the exhibition, displaying one of the first prototypes as well as the many variations in sizes and shapes that Noguchi developed throughout the decades. These are complemented by tables such as Rudder Dinette Table (1944), Chess Table (1944), Coffee Table (1944), Prismatic Table (1954-1957) and Laminated Table (1954), sofas, stools and dishes, which are interspersed with playing areas such as Contoured Playground (1941) and Play Mountain (1933), garden furniture and sculptures to be used, like The Footstep (1958), Endless Coupling (1957) in reference to Brancusi’s The Endless Column and The Spirit's Flight (1969).
The creation of his gardens and urban design always begin with small models in plaster or wood, some of which he later makes in bronze. The exhibition shows some examples of them interspersed with the rest of his production in order to show the similar importance Noguchi gives to both large scale works and small details.
Over the four different environments created for the occasion, Noguchi's work is presented in the Museo Reina Sofia as an exercise in continued innovation of artistic activity for six decades, as well as an undeniable evidence that daily life is the best place to practice art.
Design Museum, London (July 19 - November 18, 2001); Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein (December 8, 2001 - May 1, 2002); Maison de la Culture du Japon, Paris (September 23, 2002 - February 14, 2003); MART, Trento (14 marzo - 4 mayo, 2003); Kunsthal, Rotterdam (May 23 - September 7, 2003); Isamu Noguchi Foundation, New York (June 9 - October 30, 2004); Seattle Art Museum (June 9 - September 5, 2005); Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles (February 12 - May 7, 2006)