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Isamu Noguchi

American Sculptor and Designer

Born: November 17, 1904 - Los Angeles, California

Died: December 30, 1988 - New York, New York

Isamu Noguchi Timeline


"The essence of sculpture is for me the perception of space, the continuum of our existence."
Isamu Noguchi
"Stone is the fundament of the earth, of the universe. It is not old or new but a primordial element. Stone is the primary medium, and nature is where it is, and nature is where we have to go to experience life."
Isamu Noguchi
"Everything is sculpture. Any material, any idea without hindrance born into space, I consider sculpture."
Isamu Noguchi
"[The visible world] enters our consciousness as emotion as well as knowledge; trees grow in vigor, flowers hang evanescent, and mountains lie somnolent -- with meaning. The promise of sculpture is to project these inner presences into forms that can be recognized as important and meaningful in them."
Isamu Noguchi
"I like to think of gardens as sculpturing of space: a beginning, and a groping to another level of sculptural experience and use: a total sculpture space experience beyond individual sculptures."
Isamu Noguchi
"We are a landscape of all we have seen"
Isamu Noguchi

"Sculpture can be a vital force in our everyday life if projected into communal usefulness."

Isamu Noguchi Signature


Isamu Noguchi, a major American and Japanese sculptor and designer, spent over six decades creating abstract works - largely in stone - based on both organic and geometric forms. Greatly inspired by traditional Japanese art, as well as by the biomorphic style of some Surrealist art, Noguchi became internationally known both for his artwork and his publicly accessible furniture and architecture. His ultimate objective, to create and enhance public spaces through sculpture, provided his career with a distinct direction and established him as a critical figure in the worlds of post-war art, architecture and design.

Key Ideas

The overarching concept informing Noguchi's work was his passionate, career-long desire to create art the public could use in a social space. He realized this goal in myriad ways: mass produced furniture and lamps; theatrical set designs; public projects such as gardens, playgrounds and fountains; and sculptural manipulations of the natural landscape.
Noguchi wanted to call attention to the dichotomies inherent in much of his work: he merged geometric and organic forms, found value in both positive and negative space, and created works that challenged the boundaries of design and art. He also integrated the materials and art forms of both his Japanese and American heritages into his innovative creations.
Noguchi was socially and artistically connected to Abstract Expressionism, as evident not only in his large-scale works evoking abstracted forms but also in his friendships with Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning. Yet, his sculpture retained a distinct sensibility in its use of natural materials and its distinct blend of Surrealist and Japanese influence.

Most Important Art

Isamu Noguchi Famous Art

The Well (Variation on a Tskubal) (1982)

Located within the garden at the Noguchi Museum in New York, The Well demonstrates Noguchi's mastery of natural elements, and the strong presence of a Japanese aesthetic. Noguchi worked with stone his entire life, first learning how to carve while an assistant to Constantin Brancusi. Noguchi produced his final stone sculptures at his studio on Shikoku Island, Japan, where he worked with the local basalt stone. The Well perfectly balances modernism with traditional Japanese stonework, the man made with the natural. The piece unites natural contrasts: the fluidity and transparency of water against the still, solid black stone. Filtered up from below, the water gently skims the surface of The Well; there is a slight indentation on top that pools with water before cascading downwards. Noguchi sensually combines natural elements, creating a work that is both contemplative, but joyous.
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Isamu Noguchi Artworks in Focus:



Isamu Noguchi's parents met when his mother, an American writer, was hired to assist his father, a young Japanese poet, with his English. By the time Noguchi was born in 1904, his father had returned to Japan. At two years old, Noguchi and his mother moved to Tokyo to live with his father, but left in 1910 for Omori and in 1912 for Chigasaki, where nine-year-old Noguchi helped with the construction of his home. In 1913, Noguchi's father married a Japanese woman and began his own family, further distancing himself from his son. At 13, Noguchi's mother sent him to the Interlaken School in Rolling Prairie, Indiana.

Early Training

After graduating high school in Indiana, Noguchi spent a summer tutoring the son of sculptor Gutzon Borglum in Connecticut; in exchange he received training from the future Mount Rushmore sculptor, who asserted that Noguchi was talentless. Although Noguchi had wanted to be an artist since he was young, he entered Columbia University as a pre-med student in 1922. His mother moved to New York in 1924 and encouraged her son to study sculpture at the Leonardo da Vinci School of Art. Later that year, Noguchi left Columbia to focus on his art full-time; he also began using his father's name "Noguchi," rather than his mother's, "Gilmour," which he had previously used. His academic, figurative sculptures were soon shown in several exhibitions at the da Vinci School, the National Academy of Design and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Isamu Noguchi Biography

In 1927, Noguchi traveled to Paris on a Guggenheim Fellowship and began working as an assistant to Constantin Brancusi, whose New York gallery exhibition the previous year had been extremely influential for the young artist. While teaching Noguchi methods of direct carving in wood and stone, Brancusi strongly communicated to Noguchi his aesthetic and relationship to his materials. From Brancusi, Noguchi became interested in the idea of leaving the marks of his tools on his sculpture to signify an ongoing connection between sculptor and material. However, it was only after leaving Brancusi's studio that Noguchi began creating his own sculptures, many of which initially echoed the form, themes and materials of his mentor. Noguchi's sculptures began as simple geometric shapes, but he soon moved toward more organic forms, sometimes merging the two. While in Paris, Noguchi also became part of the Bohemian community, meeting artists such as Alexander Calder, Stuart Davis and Jules Pascin.

Upon returning to New York in 1929, when his Fellowship expired, Noguchi had his first solo exhibition at the Eugene Schoen Gallery, which was met with a positive response despite a lack of sales. To make money, he returned to the representational portrait sculptures he had begun in his academic years, creating busts of well-known artists such as George Gershwin, Martha Graham and Buckminster Fuller. For the next two years he traveled to Paris, Beijing and finally Japan. In Kyoto he first saw the Japanese pottery and Zen gardens that would greatly influence much of his work.

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Isamu Noguchi Biography Continues

Mature Period

Isamu Noguchi Photo

Noguchi returned to New York in 1931 and became involved in the social and labor activism of the 1930s, when he executed designs for workers' memorials, public art projects and political works. During this period, Noguchi also designed sets for dance and theater performances, particularly for modern dance choreographer Martha Graham, with whom he collaborated for several decades. He also became very interested in the application of art to lived environments and created proposals for several outdoor spaces, playgrounds, and other public projects.

After the Japanese Pearl Harbor attack on the United States, Noguchi furthered his political actions by protesting against the 100,000 Japanese Americans interned. He formed the Nisei Writers and Artists Mobilization for Democracy in 1942 and registered complaints in Washington. That year he also voluntarily spent several months in an Arizona internment camp, even though he was living in New York and was not required to be detained. He went there for a couple of months, with the goal of improving the lives of the people encarcerated. Instead, the budget for his projects was cut, and his paperwork to be released got lost. Noguchi pleaded for release and ultimately spent a total of 7 miserable, unproductive months in the camp.

At around this time Noguchi also began to develop his freestanding sculptures, many of which were based on the biomorphic forms of Surrealist art. Biomorphism also infused his furniture designs, such as his iconic table that was mass-produced in 1947 and is still popular today. Also in the 1940s, Noguchi started creating sculptures with light, entitled Lunars, which similarly employed biomorphic shapes. His Akari lamps of 1951 furthered his experiments in using electric light as a key sculptural element. He continued producing such sculptures for the rest of his career and included illumination in some of his public and environmental sculptures. Post-war construction growth in the 1950s and 1960s provided Noguchi with the opportunity to design numerous international public projects, many of which were focused around gardens.

Late Years and Death

Isamu Noguchi Portrait

In 1962, Noguchi spent time in Italy as an artist-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome. Later that decade, while still in Italy, he began his banded marble works, for which he used a post-tension technique involving a tightened, internal metal rod holding the multicolored pieces together. Noguchi also started his Void series in Italy in 1970. During the later period of his career, Noguchi continued creating public sculptures, gardens, fountains and playgrounds for international sites. His late sculptural work was made primarily using stone, some of which he left unpolished and in its natural state. In 1981 he began designing the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, New York; it opened in 1985, three years before his death in New York in 1988.


Although considered by some to be part of the Abstract Expressionist movement, Noguchi's dual heritage and time abroad diverted his individual aesthetic toward a unique blend of Eastern and Western art. As a result, he had a distinct influence upon subsequent generations of modern artists, designers and architects. Noguchi's determined efforts to create sculptural spaces and objects to be used by the general public were highly successful; innumerable examples of his inventive designs, sculptures and architecture can be found worldwide in museum collections and public spaces, as well as inside everyday homes.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Isamu Noguchi
Interactive chart with Isamu Noguchi's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart


Constantin BrancusiConstantin Brancusi
Alberto GiacomettiAlberto Giacometti
Hans ArpHans Arp
Joan MirĂ³Joan MirĂ³


Martha GrahamMartha Graham
Buckminster FullerBuckminster Fuller
Alexander CalderAlexander Calder
Arshile GorkyArshile Gorky


Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Isamu Noguchi
Isamu Noguchi
Years Worked: 1924 - 1988


Maya LinMaya Lin
Lawrence HalprinLawrence Halprin
Robert SmithsonRobert Smithson


Isamu KenmochiIsamu Kenmochi
Buckminster FullerBuckminster Fuller


Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Modern Furniture DesignModern Furniture Design
Landscape ArchitectureLandscape Architecture

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Useful Resources on Isamu Noguchi




The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


Isamu Noguchi's Modernism: Negotiating Race, Labor, and Nation, 1930-1950

By Amy Lyford

The Life of Isamu Noguchi: Journey Without Borders

By Masayo Duus

Isamu Noguchi: A Study of Space

By Ana Maria Torres

More Interesting Books about Isamu Noguchi
Noguchi's Missing Link

By Stephanie Strasnick
October 18, 2013

5 Public Landscapes of Isamu Noguchi

By Diana Budds
September 20, 2013

Celebrating an Enduring Partnership

By Gia Kourlas
The New York Times
March 18, 2011

The Far-Ranging Artistic Alliances That Shaped a Sculptor Recomended resource

By Karen Rosenberg
The New York Times
December 16, 2010

More Interesting Articles about Isamu Noguchi
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