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Details
Isamu Noguchi (1904-1989)
Avatar
incised with signature and number 'Isamu Noguchi A.P.' (on the lower leg)
bronze
78 x 32 x 24 in. (198.1 x 83.8 x 61 cm.)
Conceived in 1947 and cast in 1988. This work is an artist proof aside from an edition of eight plus two artist proofs.
Provenance
Pace Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Literature
Isamu Noguchi, exh. cat., New York, Egan Gallery, 1949, n.p. (marble example illustrated).
Sculpture Annual, exh. cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1949 (marble example illustrated).
Pittsburgh International Exhibition, exh. cat., Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute, Museum of Art, 1958, no. 327 (marble example illustrated). 2nd Salon International de Galeries pilotes Lausanne, exh. cat., Lausanne, Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, 1966, p. 206, illustrated (marble).
Isamu Noguchi, exh. cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1968, no. 21, p. 26, illustrated (marble example illustrated).
R. Buckminster Fuller, Isamu Noguchi: A Sculptor's World, New York, 1968, figs. 61 and 64 (marble example illustrated).
S. Hunter, Isamu Noguchi, New York, 1978, p. 226-227 (marble example illustrated in color).
Noguchi's Imaginary Landscapes, exh. cat., Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, 1978, pp. 12 and 95, fig. 1 (another example illustrated).
N. Grove and D. Botnick, The Sculpture of Isamu Noguchi 1924-1979, A Catalogue, New York, 1980, p. 46, no. 253 (marble example illustrated).
Contemporary Sculpture from the Martin Z. Margulies Collection, Coconut Grove, 1986, p. 97 (another example illustrated in color).
B. Altshuler, Isamu Noguchi: Early Abstraction, New York and London, 1994, p. 43, no. 46 (marble example illustrated).
D. Apostolos-Cappadona and B. Altshuler, eds., Isamu Noguchi Essays and Conversations, New York, 1994, p. 141 (marble example illustrated).
Isamu Noguchi: Master Sculptor, exh. cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art October 2004-January 2005, p. 110 (marble example illustrated in color).
The Martin Z. Margulies Collection Painting and Sculpture, New York, 2008, pp. 16 and 218 (another example illustrated in color).
Exhibited
Art Institute of Chicago, 58th Annual American Exhibition, 1947 (marble example exhibited).
Paris, Galerie Claude Bernard, Isamu Noguchi, June 1964 n.11 (another example exhibited); no. 1 (marble example illustrated).
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Isamu Noguchi, April-June 1968, p. 26, no. 61 (marble example exhibited illustrated in color).
Tokyo, Minami Gallery, Isamu Noguchi, May-June 1973, no. 3 and 44 (marble example illustrated in color and incorrectly titled); no. 12 (another example exhibited).
New York, Pace Gallery, Five Americans: Calder, Cornell, Nevelson, Noguchi, David Smith, Masters of Twentieth Century Art, January-February 1975 (another example exhibited).
New York, Pace Gallery, Isamu Noguchi: Bronze and Iron Sculpture, May-June 1988, no. 7 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Miami, Florida International University, Miro & Noguchi: Selections from the Martin Z. Margulies Collection, September-October 1995, p. 25 (another example exhibited illustrated); p. 19 (marble example illustrated).

Lot Essay

"The essence of sculpture is for me the perception of space, the continuum of our existence. 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 essence of sculpture and as our concepts of them change, so must our sculpture change" - Isamu Noguchi (I. Noguchi, quoted in S. Hunter, Isamu Noguchi, New York, 1978, p. 85).

One of Isamu Noguchi's most powerful and expressive sculptures, Avatar is comprised of an evocative series of interlocking, biomorphic forms that describe an ambiguously human figure, but resists any absolute characterization. Between 1944 and 1947 Noguchi produced some of his most original series of sculptures to date, and their compelling forms immediately established him as a major figure in American art. These works drew specifically from the ongoing Surrealist movement of the time, taking cues from artists such as Yves Tanguy, whose spare, deconstructed forms and images created a sense of poetic transcendence as well as psychic depth.

Isamu Noguchi's assembled planes of majestic bronze rise six feet tall, suggestive of a human form with its elegant poise and grace. Like many of Noguchi's most successful sculptures this work parallels the human figure in a number of ways, possessing strong figurative associations which resonate throughout its diverse forms. The adapted tripod rises from elongated, bone-like legs to an equally flat, head-like shape. The rounded contours of the piece imbue it with an subtle eroticism by which arms and elbows are transformed into sexual organs. The bud-like forms, which protrude from the "legs" of the tripod recall phallic imagery and reference the strong sexual undercurrents prevalent in Surrealist art.

In Avatar, Noguchi has created a dual impression of "anonymous architecture and detached emblems representing the human body" (Sam Hunter, Isamu Noguchi, 1975, p. 83). Alongside other sculptures in this series of interlocking slab sculpture--including Kouros, Gregory, Humpty Dumpty and Metamorphosis--Avatar emerges as one of the foremost examples of Noguchi's attempt to give physical form to abstract human characteristics and emotions. Noguchi's choice of title for this piece, Avatar, reflects his continued interest in Eastern art and culture. With origins rooted in the Hindu religion, the word "avatar" references the incarnation of a divine being who appears on Earth for a special purpose. Crafting his Avatar with such abstracted forms allows Noguchi to re-enforce this idea of a being which eludes definition and defies logic-a structure which appeals to the unconscious mind as Noguchi situates his avatar firmly on the earth by casting it in the heavy metal medium, bronze.

Bronze was a material that Noguchi had hitherto shied away from, feeling that the casting process was too removed from direct contact with the artist's hand to warrant consideration. In the case of this series of sculptures however, he felt that casting them in bronze would lend these works a symbolic and literal weight that was necessary for their success. He wished to "stress weight in the elements composing the sculptures," believing that, "it is weight that gives meaning to weightlessness" (I. Noguchi, A Sculptor's World, New York, 1968, p. 38). The soaring, spindly legs and slim, flattened planes are counterbalanced and enhanced by the physical weight of the structure itself.

Noguchi places great importance on each separate piece to hold the structure together without the influence of outside materials such as nails or glue or welding. Each element is crafted to work with gravity so as to create a harmonious, work of art, integrated with and responding to the laws of nature. Dark, metallic, durable and of self-evident weight, the bronze medium lends itself admirably to his series of interlocking slab sculptures: "The basis of calligraphy is balance. In sculpture, however extreme, there is always a countervailing thrust, an actual weight. The vitality of a sculpture thus comes from a mimic of the original stroke, a tension, and not merely from its appearance, which is so generally appreciated" (I. Noguchi, op. cit., p. 90).

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