red cube

Noguchi and Not Exactly Belonging

I’ve always loved the work of Japanese-American sculptor, designer and landscape architect (1904-1988), Isamu Noguchi.  You are probably familiar with his most famous work, the Noguchi coffee table or the countless reproductions (thanks Ikea!) of his Akari light sculptures.

noguchi coffee table

He created a coffee table for the president of the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1939. He also produced a variation for designer George Nelson. Still in the permanent collection of the MOMA, the Coffee Table IN50 was lauded for fusing the principles of sculpture with furniture and its flowing, organic shape.  A very simple design yet beautiful in its simplicity.

noguchi signature

The table top is a glass vaguely triangular shape which appears to float above the supports.  The supports are identical wooden pieces inverted on top of each other.  One end of the table seems to rest gracefully on a point of a support.  Another end seems balanced on the top of two points of the support resting on each other (with a concealed steel rod providing strength).  The table quickly achieved iconic status.

noguchi coffee table top

The table has an asymmetrical balance which echoes Japanese traditional garden design.  Japanese gardens are big on asymmetrical balance and nature in idealised form.  Although Japanese gardens are very natural with their materials, the composition is a studied balance.  Half-Japanese, Noguchi loved the beauty and simplicity of Japanese rock gardens.

japanese rock garden

Noguchi’s heritage instilled in him a love of Japanese sensibilities.  Noguchi was a result of an affair between Japanese poet Yonejiro (Yone) Noguchi and his American translator, Leonie Gilmour.  Yone was a fairly absent father but Leonie stayed in Japan and nurtured her son’s creativity.  At the age of 14, Noguchi was sent back to the United States for further schooling.  He returned to Japan on occasion and eventually married a Japanese actress. He was, however, over the idea of being accepted in Japan.

In the same way as I do, she belongs to that increasing number of not belonging people.

Isamu Noguchi (referring to a Chinese-American artist)

Noguchi made the most of his always-an-outsider status.  He worked his exotic background into his creativity and also as an entree into the world’s art circles .  And, of course with the iconic status of the coffee table, he has achieved belonging.  You know you are part of the cultural lexicon when you have a popular tumblr blog named after you (Fuck Your Noguchi Coffee Table).

Noguchi had a prolific career in a variety of creative outlets. For example, he designed the Japanese garden at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, the Japanese-influenced Akari light sculptures and set designs for American modern dancer Martha Graham.


photo: vitra

Here is Noguchi’s Red Cube (1968) which is a giant sculpture in New York City near Wall Street.  It’s a cube balanced precariously on a tip. Through the hole you can see a vignette of the building behind (which my daughter is doing upside down!).

red cube

You can learn more about Noguchi at The Noguchi Museum in New York.  I hope to visit it on one of my future trips!

2 thoughts on “Noguchi and Not Exactly Belonging

  1. Doris

    I LOVE Noguchi’s work, I have a couple of his akari lampshades and the light that illuminates from it is just amazing. Sometimes I just turn the light on and stare at it – it’s so beautiful! Oh I digress… great post. xD

    1. nylonliving Post author

      Thanks! We don’t have the Akari because it reminds Mr. N too much of the cheap imitations. I am, however, trying to convince him to fork out the money for a coffee table. still a work in progress. :-))


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