ISAMU NOGUCHI (1904-1988)
ISAMU NOGUCHI (1904-1988)
ISAMU NOGUCHI (1904-1988)
3 More
ISAMU NOGUCHI (1904-1988)
6 More
Property from a New York Estate
ISAMU NOGUCHI (1904-1988)

The Comb

ISAMU NOGUCHI (1904-1988)
The Comb
granite on wooden base
granite: 46 ½ x 27 x 3 ½ in. (118.1 x 68.6 x 8.9 cm.)
overall: 74 x 46 ½ x 6 ¾ in. (188 x 68.6 x 17.1 cm.)
Executed in 1962. This work is unique.
Cordier & Ekstrom, Inc., New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1965
V. Raynor, "In the Galleries: Reviews by Jacqueline Barnitz, William Berkson, Herbert Brontein, Amby Goldin, Jacob Grossbert, Anne Hoene, Vivien Raynor," Arts Magazine 39, no. 9, May-June 1965, p. 55.
H. Sutton, "The Studio of Isamu Noguchi," Architectural Design, October 1966 (studio view illustrated).
I. Noguchi, Isamu Noguchi: A Sculptor's World, New York and Evanston, 1968, p. 39.
D. Botnick and N. Grove, The Sculpture of Isamu Noguchi, 1924-1979: A Catalogue, New York and London, 1980, p. 98, no. 536 (illustrated).
Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, The Isamu Noguchi Catalogue Raisonné, digital, ongoing, no. 536 (illustrated).
New York, Cordier & Ekstrom, Inc., Noguchi Stone Sculpture, March-April 1965.

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

“I love stone because it is the most flexible and meaning-impregnated material… Stone has a quality of durability. It does not pollute. It merely goes back to earth naturally” —Isamu Noguchi

Having resided in the same private collection for over fifty years, Isamu Noguchi’s The Comb displays the essence of the artist’s poetic and deeply spiritual sculptural practice. In the present work, material, medium, and form combine into one holistic whole: the smoothness of the vertical surfaces contrasts with the visceral rawness of the neighboring planes, and the strict geometric interventions contrast with natural physiology of the stone. Noguchi’s almost mystical understanding of the innate qualities of his chosen medium allows him to extract forms that only he appears to know are there, and by capturing both the intrinsic qualities of the stone and the refined qualities of his own interventions, the artist brings together the two extremes of the aesthetic spectrum.   
Carved from a single piece of solid black granite, Noguchi’s form creates a dynamic and dramatic silhouette against whichever backdrop it is placed. Combining elegant curves and smooth surfaces with clean cuts and irregular edges, he creates a sense of dynamic energy that seems to emerge directly from the stone itself. The gentle curved line of the lower edge contrast with the strict cuts incised into the upper edge; interior becomes exterior, and irregular becomes regular. Executed in 1962, The Comb also contains elements of Noguchi’s preferred circular forms. For the artist, the nature of the circle allows for introspection—a chance to examine the interior and exterior of a sculpture; an opportunity to get truly close to your material and understand how it reacts both with itself and the environment it occupies.

In addition to the physical form, Noguchi also had a deep physical, and often emotional, relationship with the medium, and stone became his preferred material of choice. For the artist, it symbolized the root of life experience, and it was the stable center of the shifting currents and changes that occurred throughout his career. Working with stone put Noguchi in touch with what he regarded as the enduring and consoling human and artistic realities of his creative process. “I love stone because it is the most flexible and meaning-impregnated material,” he once said. “The whole world is made of stone. It’s nothing new. It’s as old as the hills. It is our fundament… Stone has a quality of durability. It does not pollute. It merely goes back to earth naturally” (I. Noguchi, quoted by S. Hunter, Isamu Noguchi, New York, 1978, p. 121).   

The early 1960s were a prolific period for the artist. He was commissioned by the architect Gordon Bunshaft to design a sculpture for the First National Bank building in Fort Worth Texas. While working on this project he was also approached by Bunshaft about designing a sunken garden for the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscripts Library at Yale University, and the following year he was invited to submit plans for two courtyards and a terrace for the IBM Headquarters in Armonk, New York. “1960 was my year of great beginnings,” Noguchi said in 1980 (I. Noguchi, quoted in H. Herrera, Listen to the Stone, New York, 2015, p. 353). Yet, while working on these large-scale projects, he still found time to engage with smaller projects such as The Comb, working directly and confidently with the natural materials that he loved, producing elegant and tactile forms that only really worked because they were executed on such an intimate scale.

Throughout his career Noguchi worked in a number of different materials including wood, slate and marble, and during the late 1960s granite became one of his favorite mediums. After spending time working with Constantin Brâncuşi in Paris in the 1920s, he turned to modernism and abstraction, infusing his highly finished forms with a palpable sense of mystery. As an artist he sought out materials that he felt matched the character of the places with which he felt an affinity. He felt granite evoked nature, the earth, and a sense of longevity.  “I have since thought of,” he once said, “…my close embrace of the earth as a seeking after identity with some primal matter beyond personalities and possessions….I wanted something irreducible, an absence of the gimmicky and clever” (I. Noguchi, op. cit., p.257).

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