Browse Lots

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
Isamu Noguchi (1904-1989)
Property from a Private Swiss Collector
Isamu Noguchi (1904-1989)

Gregory (Effigy)

Details
Isamu Noguchi (1904-1989)
Gregory (Effigy)
incised with the signature, numbered and stamped with the foundry mark '2/8 Isamu Noguchi Susse Fondeur Paris' (on the foot)
bronze
69 1/8 x 16 1/8 x 16½ in. (175.5 x 40.9 x 41.9 cm.)
Conceived in 1945 and cast in 1964. This work is number two from an edition of eight plus two artist's proofs.
Provenance
Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1964
Literature
A. Michelson, "Noguchi: Notes on a Theater of the Real," Art International, vol. 8, no. 10, December 1964, pp. 22-23 (another example illustrated).
Noguchi: Steel Sculptures, exh. cat., New York, Pace Gallery, 1975, n.p. (another example illustrated in color).
S. Hunter, Isamu Noguchi, New York, 1978, pp. 79 and 230-231 (another example illustrated in color).
"Imaginary Landscapes," Museum News, March/April 1978, p. 53 (slate example illustrated).
N. Grove and D. Botnick, The Sculpture of Isamu Noguchi 1924-1979, A Catalogue, New York, 1980, pp. 43 and 326, no. 242B (another example illustrated).
I. Noguchi, The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum, New York, 1987, pp. 248-249, no. 30 (slate example illustrated).
Isamu Noguchi Retrospective 1992, exh. cat., Tokyo, The National Museum of Modern Art, 1992, pp. 42 and 64 (another example illustrated).
D. Apostolos-Cappadona and B. Altshuler, eds., Isamu Noguchi: Essays and Conversations, New York, 1994, pp. 24-25 (another example illustrated).
A. Lyford, "Noguchi, Sculptural Abstraction, and the Politics of Japanese American Internment," Art Bulletin, vol. 85, no. 1, March 2003, pp. 144-147 and 151, no. 8 (slate example illustrated).
I. Noguchi, Isamu Noguchi: A Sculptor's World, New York, 2004, pp. 76-77 and 243, pl. 59 (another example illustrated).
Exhibited
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Fourteen Americans, September-December 1946, pp. 42 and 78, no. 77 (slate example exhibited and illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Claude Bernard, Isamu Noguchi, June-July 1964, no. 2 (illustrated).
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Isamu Noguchi, April-June 1968, pp. 22 and 58, no. 12 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
Bloomington, Indiana University Art Museum, Noguchi & Rickey & Smith, November-December 1970, p. 7 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
Tokyo, Minami Gallery, Isamu Noguchi, May-June 1973, no. 10 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
North Texas State University, 1975 (another example exhibited).
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Mirages of Memory: 200 Years of Indiana Art, November 1976-January 1977, no. 101 (another example exhibited). London, Hayward Gallery, Dada and Surrealism Reviewed, January-March 1978, pp. 398 and 472, no. 15.39 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
Minneapolis, Walker Art Center; Denver Art Museum; Cleveland Museum of Art; Detroit Institute of Arts, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Philadelphia Museum of Art, Noguchi's Imaginary Landscapes, April 1978-January 1980, pp. 11-13 and 91 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
Dallas, Southern Methodist University, Meadows Museum, 20th Century Sculpture from the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond D. Nasher Collection, September-October 1978 (another example exhibited).
Kunsthaus Zurich, Sammlungen Hans und Walter Bechtler, August-October 1982, pp. 126 and 180 (illustrated).
New York, Pace Gallery, Isamu Noguchi: Bronze and Iron Sculpture, May-June 1988, no. 2 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
Bloomington, Indiana University Art Museum, A State of Art: 19th and 20th Century Artists at Work in Indiana, June-September 1988 (another example exhibited).
Madrid, Fundación Juan March, Isamu Noguchi, April-June 1994, p. 36, no. 8 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
Tokyo, Sezon Museum of Modern Art; Kochi, Museum of Art; Kamakura, Museum of Modern Art; Fukuyama Museum of Art, Isamu Noguchi and Rosanjin Kitaoji, March-October 1996, pp. 66-67 and 321, no. S-07 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Long Island City, Noguchi Museum, Sculpture and Nature, June 2002-January 2003 (slate example exhibited).
Tokyo, Sogetsu Art Museum, Isamu Noguchi, November-December 2002 (another example exhibited).
Sapporo, Moerenuma Park, Glass Pyramid Atrium, Isamu Noguchi Exhibition in the Glass Pyramid, July-August 2003 (another example exhibited).
New York, PaceWildenstein, MacDougal Alley: The Interlocking Sculpture of Isamu Noguchi, September-October 2003, pp. 26-27 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Isamu Noguchi: Master Sculptor, October 2004-May 2005, pp. 103-104 and 231 (slate example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Sapporo, Museum of Contemporary Art, Isamu Noguchi: Energy out of Nothingness, July-August 2005 (another example exhibited).
Yokohama Museum of Art; Shiga, Museum of Modern Art; Takamatsu City Museum of Art, Isamu Noguchi: Connecting the World through Sculpture, April-November 2006, pp. 25 and 141, no. 7 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

"Things come and go, and some things endure. Art endures when it is its own identity" (I. Noguchi, quoted in D. Apostolos-Cappadona and B. Altshuler, eds., Isamu Noguchi: Essays and Conversations, New York, 1994, p. 115).

A magnificent formation of smooth interlocking forms, Gregory (Effigy) belongs to one of Isamu Noguchi's most original and powerful sculptural series. The mid-1940s marked Noguchi's return to abstract, biomorphic forms that echoed the Surrealist movement prevalent at that time. Surrealism's influence had by then reached England, where a young Francis Bacon experimented with the movement's techniques, and America, where Mark Rothko took an interest in biomorphic figures, creating masterpieces such as Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea. Noguchi took the Surrealist vocabulary and rendered it into his elegant sculptures, incorporating the movement's aesthetic of reduced forms and imagined creatures inspired by artists such as Yves Tanguy, and imbuing his works with deep psychological complexity. Gregory (Effigy), of which an early slate example debuted in the 1946 Museum of Modern Art exhibition titled Fourteen Americans, belongs to the series of interlocking sculpture--including Kouros, Avatar, Humpty Dumpty and Metamorphosis--that established Noguchi as a major figure within American art and stands out as one of the foremost examples of Noguchi's endeavor to give physical form to abstract concepts.

In Gregory (Effigy), whose name derives from a character in Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, six graceful limb-like elements interconnect harmoniously to a central elliptical plane. The flat central plane suggests a thin, elongated body to which legs and arms effortlessly interlock. Climbing nearly six feet tall, the magnificent bronze sculpture evokes a reduced skeletal form, highlighting Noguchi's exquisite comprehension of anatomy. The rounded contours of the piece imbue it with a subtle eroticism, merging the limbs at once into at once arms, legs and sexual organs, suggesting the sexual undercurrents prevalent in Surrealist art.

Gregory (Effigy) is a masterful merging of several of Noguchi's inspirations, defying absolute characterization. Noguchi alludes to this work as coming partly from the sun, although does not go on to give any specifics, also citing as a source the form of Tangaroa, the creator and sea god of Polynesia, whose body carries men and gods attached to it, continually giving birth to new beings. Most compellingly however, Gregory (Effigy) also has its origins in Franz Kafka's 1915 absurdist book, The Metamorphosis. In Kafka's story the protagonist, Gregor Samsa, awakes to find himself transformed into a giant insect. It is never explained why Samsa transforms, and in fact, Kafka intends for Gregor's new body to remain ambiguous, even forbidding his publisher to illustrate it in the book. These multidimensional interpretations of Gregory (Effigy) are reflected in the ambiguous body formation of the sculpture, and resonate with Noguchi's most paramount themes of birth, rebirth and transformation.

In the early 1960s, Noguchi revisited several earlier stone sculptures and recreated them in bronze, resulting in the series that includes this example of Gregory (Effigy). Noguchi felt that translating his stone sculptures into bronze would give them not only a literal, but also a symbolic weight, thus rendering the works more powerful and enduring. Noguchi wrote, "It is weight that gives meaning to weightlessness. I decided to have the sculptures cast in bronze, letting bronze supply the extra element of weight, as though in suspension. Bronze as metal was something older than the representational objects we are accustomed to" (I. Noguchi, quoted in, Isamu Noguchi: Bronze and Iron Sculpture, exh. cat., Pace Gallery, New York, 1988, p. iv.) Having previously shied away from bronze because he believed the casting process was too far-removed from the artist's hand, Noguchi now embraced it, but did so in a way that was faithful to his own approach to sculpture. Noguchi oversaw each step of the casting process, especially the final steps of finish and patination. In fact, though it is cast in bronze, Gregory (Effigy) is distinguished by its smooth, marble-like patina.

Working in bronze also marked another kind of revisiting--it took Noguchi back to his time as an assistant for Constantin Brancusi, whose influence marked Noguchi deeply. In 1927 at the age of 22, Noguchi traveled to Paris where he was Brancusi's studio assistant for two years. It is in Brancusi's studio that Noguchi observed the intricacies of working with bronze. As his assistant, Noguchi frequently polished the master's bronze sculptures and wrote, "The point to be made with bronze is, I think, that Brancusi discovered in each its uniqueness as it came back from the foundry, making the essential metal emerge out of the [...] casting" (I. Noguchi, quoted in D. Apostolos-Cappadona and B. Altshuler, (eds.), Isamu Noguchi: Essays and Conversations, New York, 1994, p. 112).

True to Noguchi's supreme philosophy of a structure holding together without the use of foreign materials such as adhesive, welding or nails, each of Gregory (Effigy)'s limbs hooks precisely into a slit on the body. The two-dimensional planes and slabs interconnect and in doing so morph into a three-dimensional form. The connected but deconstructable elements that make up Gregory (Effigy) give the sculpture a balance created by opposing forces, fusion and separation. The solid bronze forms balancing gracefully demonstrate the delicate nature of the human spirit, which can be strong and resilient, but whose stability can be shattered with a single fateful moment. They also reflect Noguchi's feelings about the uncertain state of the world after World War II. In 1946, about a year after the atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Noguchi was invited to participate in the exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art titled Fourteen Americans, which aimed to explore the diversity of American art. Breaking a ten-year absence from the New York exhibition scene, Noguchi sent fifteen sculptures to the show, including the original slate version of Gregory. In his statement for the Fourteen Americans show Noguchi drew on his philosophy, writing, "We are reborn, and so in art as in nature there is growth" (I. Noguchi, quoted in D. Miller, ed., Fourteen Americans, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1946, p. 39). Noguchi's timeless Gregory (Effigy) at once reverberates with echoes of past and looks toward the future. Conceived in slate and reawakened in potent and robust bronze, it stands as one of Noguchi's most original and compelling sculptures.

More from Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale

View All
View All