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Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988)
Collection of Celeste and Armand Bartos
Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988)

Variation on a Millstone #5

Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988)
Variation on a Millstone #5
25 x 25 x 3 in. (63.5 x 63.5 x 7.6 cm.)
Executed in 1967.
Collection of the Artist
Gimpel Fils Gallery, London, 1972
Acquired from the above by the present owner
N. Grove and D. Botnick, The Sculpture of Isamu Noguchi, 1924-1979: A Catalogue, New York, 1980, p. 113, no. 620 (illustrated).
N. Grove, Isamu Noguchi: A Study of the Sculpture, New York, 1985, no. 58 (illustrated).
Zurich, Gimpel & Hanover Galerie, Isamu Noguchi, October-November 1968, no. 25 (illustrated).
Saint Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maegt, L'Art Vivant aux Etats-Unis 1965-1968, July-September 1970, pp. 142-143 (illustrated).

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Koji Inoue
Koji Inoue

Lot Essay

"I want to find the stone within the stone and to know the stone inside out" - Isamu Noguchi

Isamu Noguchi's Variation on a Millstone #5, hewn from a solid piece of blue-gray granite, belongs to a significant group of the artist's sculptures that are based on the circular form--a theme that persisted throughout the artist's long career. From his early Millstones to his iconic 1969 sculpture The Sun at Noon and Black Sun (Collection of the Seattle Art Museum), the artist's interpretations of this harmonious form are rich in self-containment, symbolism and aesthetic beauty. For Noguchi, 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 the material and understand how it reacts both with itself and the environment it occupies. "The essence of sculpture is for me the perception of space, the continuum of our existence," the artist once said. "All dimensions are but measures of it, as in relative perspective of our vision lay volume, line, point, giving shape, distance, proportion. Movement, light, and time itself are also qualities of space. Space is otherwise inconceivable. These are the essences of sculpture and as our concepts of them change, so must our sculpture change" (I. Noguchi, quoted in S. Hunter, Isamu Noguchi, New York, 1978, p. 85).

Hand carved out of a block of solid granite, Variation on a Millstone #5's rounded form is divided into four segments, each of which is hewn by Noguchi to a different degree. The alternating smooth and irregular planes dispel the monotony usually associated with granite, and when illuminated by the warmth of natural sunlight, the surface comes alive with tones of light and dark grays, blues and even greens captured within the stone. The hole which Noguchi pushes through the solid stone not only allows him to see "inside the stone" as he put it, but imbues the work with a lightness and sense of holistic balance that would not be present in a solid form.

Early in his career Noguchi became interested in the work of Constantin Brancusi after seeing his sculptures at a gallery in New York in 1926. He worked as Brancusi's studio assistant in Paris for a period of several months in 1927 and under his tutelage produced Sphere Section, his first abstract work. Whilst in the French capital, Noguchi absorbed the prevailing tenets of modernist sculpture--the biomorphic shapes, smooth, highly polished surfaces and the attempts to integrate sculpture with its base, all ideas that would remerge in his later career.

Throughout his life 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. As an artist he sought out materials that he felt matched the character of the places where he worked and during this period he spent a lot of time in Japan where he worked in basalt and granite, partly because he felt that like Japan, 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, quoted by S. Hunter, Isamu Noguchi, New York, 1978, p.257).

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