Isamu Noguchi: Interpreting East and West Through Design

‘My Father, Yone Noguchi is Japanese and has long been known as an interpreter of the East and West, through poetry. I wish to do the same thing through sculpture’, wrote Isamu in his proposal for a Guggenheim fellowship, later to be received in 1927.

Creator of the iconic Noguchi Coffee Table pictured above, the designer (1904-1988) synthesised his surroundings – a concoction of Japanese and American influences to create sculptures that brought art into everyday life. Subtlety, grace and playfulness are qualities that surround you when you live with an Isamu Noguchi piece of furniture. They merge the geometric with the organic and play with both positive and negative space.

Noguchi was born in Los Angeles to the Japanese poet Yone Noguchi and Scotish-American writer Léonie Gilmour, and perhaps it was this dual heritage that produced his deep understanding of balance. He integrated materials and forms from traditional Japanese and American cultures, greatly inspired by Japanese and biomorophic surrealist art. The designer claimed “Everything is sculpture. Any material, any idea without hindrance born into space, I consider sculpture.” and he authenticated this belief with his craft.

His career was extremely successful. In the late 1950’s he formed a relationship with Herman Miller when his table design was used to illustrate an article by George Nelson titled “How to Make a Table.” It became his famous “coffee table,” originally introduced in 1947 and reissued in 1984. His legacy stretches even further to include the gardens for the UNESCO Building in Paris, five fountains for the Supreme Court Building in Tokyo, and a high-relief mural for the Mexican Intelligentsia that is considered one of the most innovative and important works from the 1930’s that speaks of Mexico’s history interweaving with the US.

Noguchi furniture continues to be sold and sought after, and can be found at store such as Herman Miller, Knoll and 1stdibs, for high prices yet fair value.

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