Sculptor, landscape designer, and creator of perhaps the most iconic coffee table ever, Isamu Noguchi was born in Los Angeles in 1904. As the child of writers, he was instilled with the importance of art at a young age and that profundity continued throughout his career, first as he studied under artist Gutzon Borglum, and then later as he received a Guggenheim fellowship to study art despite being significantly short of their age requirement. Note: Gutzon, intensely racist, thought Isamu an untalented artist. In Paris Isamu learned from Constantin Brâncuși and Alexander Calder…one can only imagine the city’s visual, literary, and musical plethora of inspiration in the late 1920’s, he was a part of it all. From there, he traveled to Japan, back to New York for the beginnings of his friendships with architect|inventor Buckminster Fuller and dancer Martha Graham, and then onward to Mexico city where he is said to have had a brief love affair with Frida Kahlo.
Designed in 1939 and originally made of rosewood and glass, marketed as “sculpture for use”.
In the years following the outbreak of WWII, the artist volunteered as an internee in an anti-Japanese camp in Arizona (although he was later kept by force for a time). While there he was mistrusted by all and the FBI considered him a potential spy. At this point you’re likely wondering why Isamu’s life and career haven’t been turned into a film by now. Yeah, we are too. The closest we can seem to find is a 1970s documentary (included below). Working simultaneously with Herman Miller on modernist forms such as the iconic coffee table, lighting, and other furniture while also collaborating with multimedia artists like John Cage, Noguchi’s large scale sculptures are both fluid and substantial mimicking his immeasurable ability to marry opposites. The Noguchi Museum in Queens, NY was founded by the sculptor himself in 1985 and was the first museum in the US specifically created by a living artist for their own work.
With the age of Corona upon us, there’s something particularly special about gardens and specifically those made for collections of sculptures - like that in the museum’s satellite location and the historic garden he designed for Paris’ UNESCO building. Traditional gardens with Japanese aesthetics tend to be perceived as stoic and controlled, yet also fragile and airy. It is those principles in mind that lead us to treasure Noguchi’s outdoor sculptures (and the paths leading to them) even more so than his designs for Knoll and his biomorphic coffee table, albeit a coveted possession for any designer. Since travel prevents us from fully experiencing the gardens, we’ve instead gathered a few rooms below where we think the table is approaching her perfect placement, inspiring both movement and stillness.
“You are to me every love thought” Isamu to Frida around 1935
Icons are often considered such because they transverse time, uniting instead of dividing common principles. Artists are rarely capable of producing a body of work which almost universally refuses to age. That is the genius of Isamu Noguchi, an artist who harnessed both his creative output and his brand in such a way that insured his legacy for the future. Now seriously, how about that biopic, right?!