Isamu Noguchi - Ways of Discovery

Play sculpture:
Photo: Nicholas Knight  Source: A leaflet "Isamu Noguchi: Ways of Discovery

An exhibition titled “ISAMU NOGUCHI: Ways of Discovery” is being held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in Ueno, Tokyo. 

Since childhood, I have admired Noguchi’s artwork for its form and design. As a little girl, I chanced upon a photo of his work in a magazine and immediately became fascinated by the modern form and design, which I had never seen in Japanese art before. At the time, I was unaware of his world-famous sculptures .


This exhibition traces Noguchi’s works leading to the stone sculptures in his final years. He made significant achievements not only in the field of sculpture but also in stage art and product design.


As the son of a Japanese father who was a poet and an Irish-American mother, Noguchi struggled to establish his identity throughout his life. Based on his experience in U.S.A and Japan and a feeling of loneliness, he established his profound philosophy. The dry landscape gardens and tea ceremony esthetics of Japan inspired him to establish the essence of his art.


The works are being displayed in three gallery spaces. The first room is entitled The Sculptural Universe, where you will notice a notable installation of lighting shades at the center. Noguchi produced many works using a variety of materials, such as ceramics, aluminum, steel, and stone. Ceramic tea cups and ceramic dolls named Yoshiko-san and Strange Bird, which are made of aluminum, are rather small in size and relatively humorous. We find astonishing variety in his works.


The second room is entitled The World of Lightness. Lightness was an important element that Noguchi instilled in his work. The Akari (light) series is representative of his quest for lightness. I believe this work is relatively familiar to us as it’s traditional, yet modern design, is rooted in our daily lives.


A light sculpture is made of frames upon which bamboo and paper are wound. This room features works made of hot-dipped galvanized steel. Play sculpture, a thick, lightly elevated steel tube, embodies the essence of lightness. Fat Dancer, Space Blot, Haystack, and others were brought from the Isamu Noguchi Garden in New York, whereas many other sculptures were brought from municipal museums throughout Japan.


The third room is Stone Gardens, which is the essence of his art and philosophy. His sculpture uses granite, marble, basalt, and andesite and is massive, heavy, and impressive. Noguchi discovered the methodology of sculpture in his late years.


“A distinctive formal balance by means of three elements − a mud covered stone surface richly nuanced with iron rust, boldly carved form and traces of the chisel using Edo-period granite cut on Shodoshima Island, displays a powerful sense of volume, as if its mass contained nature’s essence.”(An excerpt from “Isamu Noguchi:Ways of Discovery” p.127)

Noguchi’s works can be viewed at The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum and The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum, Japan in his home bases of New York and Mure-cho, Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture, respectively.


Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum

April 24–August 29, 2021

Hours of operation: 9:30–17:30

Closed on Mondays, but open July 26, August 2 and August 8, 2021.