The University of Michigan Museum of Art offers a look at sculptor Isamu Noguchi’s two-dimensional work. But highlighting his drawing and painting seems two-dimensional in more ways than one.
Noguchi, who died in 1988, was predominantly a sculptor. He made this clear in many statements like, “It is weight that gives meaning to weightlessness.”
He wanted to be a sculptor from the start and, loving stone in particular, set out to study sculpture with Gutzon Borglum, the carver of the four American presidents on Mount Rushmore. But Borglum said he wasn’t good enough.
So he tried medical school for a while but returned to sculpture as a student at New York’s Leonardo da Vinci School.
Then he won a Guggenheim fellowship and went to Paris to study with Brancusi, where he learned that simple, primordial shapes can stand for living things.
His love for stone continued throughout his life: “Stone is the fundament of the earth of the universe,” he said. “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…I feel that with stone it’s possible to know what its truth is, because it’s part of our experience of this earth; we walk upon it. It’s part of our environment that is absolutely true.”
Noguchi’s “Landscape in Time” is a Stonehenge-like public work http://usedview.com/article/public-art-where-s-the-rest-of-us standing before the Seattle Federal Building. What you see is an open composition of five carved and weather-beaten granite boulders in varying sizes: two stand erect like human figures, another lays on its side, as though worn out. The remaining stones rise in diminished size, seemingly cut down and in some stage of rot or deterioration.
Because Noguchi’s stone work consists of natural boulders, his price for commissioned work was questioned. The National Taxpayers’ Union complained about Noguchi’s government project “Landscape of Time” that the General Services Administration commissioned in 1975:
“The rocks look for all the world like common boulders,” the Union said, pointing out that such boulders were available for $5.50 a ton, or a total of $44 when they were mined. The GSA purchased Noguchi’s for $100,000.”
Although material costs are easy to calculate, Noguchi supporters defended him, saying the creative process is difficult to evaluate.
Given Noguchi’s love of stone and famously saying, “If the world is to survive, sculpture had to be an important part of the living experience and not just something for collectors to buy,” one may wonder what he would have thought of the Michigan museum’s focus on his two-dimension work.