Isamu Noguchi (1904-88)

American designer and sculptor, born Los Angeles and active New York.


Originally Isamu Gilmour, his mother was an Irish-American editor and writer, and his father a Japanese poet. Young Isamu attended grammar school in Japan, also learning carpentry from a traditional Japanese craftsman. Although he returned to the United States in 1918 and would mainly reside there for the rest of his life, his cross-cultural childhood had a marked impact on his later work.

In 1922, he entered Columbia University as a medical student; at the same time, he had enrolled in an evening sculpture class at the Leonardo DaVinci Art School. Sculpture won. He dropped out of medical school and resolved to pursue a career as an artist. In 1927, his brilliant work secured him a Guggenheim Fellowship for travel to Paris and the east. In Paris, he met Constantin Brancusi and became the great sculptor´s assistant. After returning to New York, Noguchi supported himself as a portrait sculptor, and as a set designer for Martha Graham.

Noguchi´s first mass produced object, a bakelite intercom, was manufactured by Zenith in 1938. Entitled Radio Nurse, its elegant form suggests a female head and bespeaks its creator´s training as a sculptor. Noguchi designed his first piece of furniture shortly thereafter ¬ó a free form glass topped coffee table, for A. Congers Goodyear, president of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. A slightly revised version was later issued by Herman Miller. Some of his most creative designs emerged during the 1940´s and 50´s; these include the 70 sofa and 71 ottoman (1946), the IN52 rudder coffee table (1949), and the Rocking stool (1954). His Akari range of lighting, made of mulberry paper and bamboo, is among his most recognizable (and imitated) designs.

Noguchi´s work was widely exhibited during his lifetime. In the early 1980´s, he established a museum in Long Island City, Queens, to exhibit his work.

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