ISAMU NOGUCHI (1904-1988)
ISAMU NOGUCHI (1904-1988)
ISAMU NOGUCHI (1904-1988)
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ISAMU NOGUCHI (1904-1988)
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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.
Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above in 1965).
Anon. sale, Christie’s New York, 11 November 2021, lot 73C.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
V. Raynor, 'In the Galleries: Reviews by Jacqueline Barnitz, William Berkson, Herbert Brontein, Amby Goldin, Jacob Grossbert, Anne Hoene, Vivien Raynor', in Arts Magazine 39, no. 9, May-June 1965, p. 55.
H. Sutton, 'The Studio of Isamu Noguchi', in Architectural Design, October 1966 (studio view illustrated).
I. Noguchi, Isamu Noguchi: A Sculptor's World, New York 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, p. 432).
Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, The Isamu Noguchi Catalogue Raisonné, digital, ongoing, no. 536 (illustrated in colour).
New York, Cordier & Ekstrom, Inc., Noguchi Stone Sculpture, 1965.

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Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Isamu Noguchi’s The Comb (1962) is a notched, roughly semicircular form of glittering black granite poised atop a slender wooden plinth. It is intriguingly asymmetrical: one face is dimpled with a small, circular concavity, while a pyramidal protrusion emerges from the other. Faceted, polished prongs taper up towards uneven edges which appear hewn straight from the rock. The voids between them frame the work’s environment, introducing the changing negative space as a sculptural element. The elegantly worked form proposes a conceptual dialogue between sculpture and nature. Drawing upon ideas from Zen Buddhist thought, its sleek, refined surface also reflects the Modernist legacy of Constantin Brâncuși, in whose studio Noguchi apprenticed as a young man. As is typical of the artist’s work, The Comb evokes ceremony, ritual and the human body in space, with a fundamental openness to the wider world.

Noguchi was born in Los Angeles in 1904 to an American mother and a Japanese father. He spent much of his childhood in Japan before moving back to the United States by himself at the age of thirteen. After high school he briefly worked for the sculptor Gutzon Borglum—later famed for creating the Mount Rushmore National Memorial—who told him he would never succeed as an artist. Noguchi took evening sculpture classes while enrolled at Columbia University, soon dropping his medical degree to make a living as a sculptor of portrait busts. He was profoundly impressed by a New York show of Brâncuși’s work in 1926, and went to Paris the next year on a Guggenheim Fellowship. There he assisted Brâncuși in his studio, and also befriended Alexander Calder. He continued to travel extensively over the following years, meeting the architect and inventor Buckminster Fuller in New York in 1929, and studying calligraphy, ceramics and Zen rock gardens in China and Japan in 1930. This plurality of ideas informed Noguchi’s sculpture, which began to take highly finished, enigmatic and often biomorphic abstract form.

Noguchi went on to achieve success in a wide array of disciplines, working on stage sets, portrait commissions, monumental public sculpture, playground projects and furniture alike. His glass-topped ‘Noguchi table’ and ‘Akari’ light sculptures, conceived in the 1940s and early 1950s and still in production today, are icons of modern design. Noguchi took a holistic view of his practice, believing that sculpture could be socially engaged and relevant to daily life. The early 1960s were a prolific period for the artist. At the start of the decade he was commissioned by the architect Gordon Bunshaft to design a sculpture for the First National Bank building in Fort Worth, Texas. He went on to create a sunken garden for Bunshaft’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscripts Library at Yale University, which was completed in 1964. The garden features a pyramid form similar to that in the present work. ‘1960 was my year of great beginnings,’ Noguchi later said (I. Noguchi, quoted in H. Herrera, Listen to the Stone, New York 2015, p. 353).

Amid this diverse output, Noguchi continued to work on an intimate scale with stone, valuing the material’s timeless, elemental power. He used granite, basalt, onyx, travertine and a variety of different marbles. The Comb exemplifies Noguchi’s mastery of his medium. Its balanced, dynamic silhouette creates a play between interior and exterior, order and irregularity. For the boundary-crossing artist, sculpture was a space of both rootedness and transcendence, able to comprehend the flux and constancy of life on earth. ‘To search the final reality of stone beyond the accident of time,’ Noguchi wrote, ‘I seek the love of matter. The materiality of stone, its essence, to reveal its identity—not what might be imposed but something closer to its being. Beneath the skin is the brilliance of matter’ (I. Noguchi, The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum, New York 1987, p. 26).

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