Today, it’s impossible to discuss the Modernist movement without paying tribute to design legend Isamu Noguchi. With a career that spanned six decades, Noguchi produced some of design’s most iconic pieces while also maintaining one of furniture’s most illustrious careers. During his life, Noguchi traveled across the world, learning from craft masters before finally establishing his own signature style and introducing boundary-breaking designs like the Noguchi Coffee Table and Akari Lanterns.
How He Got His Start:
Born in Los Angeles in 1904, Noguchi moved to Japan with his mother at age two. At age eight he began apprenticing with a local carpenter and at age fourteen, Noguchi returned to the United States and was taken under the wing of the famed artist Gutzon Borglum (aka: the wiz behind Mount Rushmore). Borglum, however, doubted Noguchi’s sculpting abilities (say, what?!) prompting Noguchi to take up medicine, instead. While at Columbia, Noguchi moonlit at the Leonardo da Vinci Art School and just three months later, he dropped out of med school to pursue a sculpture career full-time.
In 1926, Noguchi received a Guggenheim Fellowship to study stone working in Paris with sculptor Constantin Brancusi. Not long after that wrapped, Noguchi jetted to Asia to study brush painting in China and pottery in Japan. After returning to American at the outbreak of the U.S.’s involvement in WWII 1942 and becoming a voluntary internee at the Poston internment camp in Arizona in 1942, Noguchi joined the burgeoning Surrealist movement. Fueled with his prior sculptural studies, he fused the movement with mixed-media concepts and Biomorphism.
You Likely Know Him For:
His signature abstract style that brings an aura of zen to any space. The works of Isamu Noguchi are the ultimate embodiment of nature, modernism, and grace. In 1947, Noguchi embarked on one of his most iconic collaborations, partnering up with the Herman Miller company to produce iconic designs like the Noguchi table. Composed of two curved wood legs balanced to form a tripod, and topped with an amoebic-shaped piece of glass, the Noguchi table has become a staple of modern-chic homes as well as hospitality hot spots looking to strike the furniture equivalent of business casual.
It’s also worth noting Noguchi’s Akari lanterns, which although hard to credit to Noguchi by sight, are a total embodiment of his super ethereal ethos. Inspired by lanterns he saw in Japan, Noguchi worked closely with a manufacturer in Gifu to fashion washi paper and bamboo ribbing into massive orbs that double as indoor moons.
Where You’ll Spot His Work Today:
Posh, A-lister brownstones and utopian, architect-designed Mid-Century compounds all make use of Noguchi pieces, making his work a common find among the pages of the top shelf shelter mags. Top tier interior designersNeal Beckstedt and Tom Scheerer have both used Noguchi lanterns in wildly different settings, the former in a industrial-cool downtown loft and the latter in a chic, white-on-white Bahamas hideaway (side note: Tom also used his Noguchi lantern framed for an extra dose of didn’t-see-that-coming cool). And proving that Noguchi has the ultimate respect from not just the designer pool but the maker pond as well, architect and furniture maker Oscar Niemeyer tapped a Noguchi Rudder stool into his Santa Monica Mountains Strick House.
Photo by © William Waldron / OTTO