Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988)
Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988)
Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988)
Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988)
3 More
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more The Collection of Dr. Marvin and Mrs. Natalie Gliedman
Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988)

Light Sculpture (Lunar)

Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988)
Light Sculpture (Lunar)
magnesite, plastic, electric components and wood
15 ¾ x 20 ¼ x 5 1/8 in. (40 x 51.4 x 13 cm.)
Executed circa 1943.
Andy Warhol, New York
Jed Johnson, gift from the above, 1976
Fifty/50, New York, 1991
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1991
G. Wood, ed., Surreal Things: Surrealism and Design, London, 2007, pp. 94-95, fig. 5.17 (illustrated in color).
A. Ross, ed., The Isamu Noguchi Catalogue Raisonné, digital, ongoing, New York, no. 189.01 (illustrated in color).
Roslyn Harbor, Nassau County Museum of Art, American Vanguards, January-April 1996, p. 70 (illustrated incorrectly and titled as Floating Lunar).
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Isamu Noguchi: Master Sculptor, October 2004-May 2005, pp. 80-81 and 230.
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. Where Christie's has provided a Minimum Price Guarantee it is at risk of making a loss, which can be significant, if the lot fails to sell. Christie's therefore sometimes chooses to share that risk with a third party. In such cases the third party agrees prior to the auction to place an irrevocable written bid on the lot. The third party is therefore committed to bidding on the lot and, even if there are no other bids, buying the lot at the level of the written bid unless there are any higher bids. In doing so, the third party takes on all or part of the risk of the lot not being sold. If the lot is not sold, the third party may incur a loss. The third party will be remunerated in exchange for accepting this risk based on a fixed fee if the third party is the successful bidder or on the final hammer price in the event that the third party is not the successful bidder. The third party may also bid for the lot above the written bid. Where it does so, and is the successful bidder, the fixed fee for taking on the guarantee risk may be netted against the final purchase price.

Third party guarantors are required by us to disclose to anyone they are advising their financial interest in any lots they are guaranteeing. However, for the avoidance of any doubt, if you are advised by or bidding through an agent on a lot identified as being subject to a third party guarantee you should always ask your agent to confirm whether or not he or she has a financial interest in relation to the lot.

Brought to you by

Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis

Lot Essay

In May of 1942, Isamu Noguchi voluntarily entered the Poston War Relocation Center in the Arizona desert. This camp, set up by the United States government for Japanese citizens and Americans of Japanese descent troubled Noguchi, and he left New York to “willfully become part of humanity uprooted.” Noguchi himself never felt rooted anywhere, neither in Japan nor in the United States, and was never completely accepted by the art establishment. This moment in the Arizona desert marked a turning point in Noguchi’s life, as it represented a crossroads of cultural and personal awareness for the artist. The art completed during this intense period and upon his return to New York in 1944 was a watershed moment for the artist, making the full transition from figuration to abstraction.

“Sculpture would become itself an equivalent for nature forms and forces which had traditionally been represented or symbolized by the figure” Nancy Grove: Isamu Noguchi, A Study of the Sculpture

Works of this period for Noguchi drew on the spirit of the American West: the open spaces and sculptural contours of the land as well as the indigenous people who resided there. Seminal works from this period This Tortured Earth (1942) and Katchina (1943) embody two competing directions in Noguchi’s sculpture. Both approach a complete abstract art, with This Tortured Earth appearing as a relief sculpture illustrating the bombed and barren landscape as an effect of World War II, and Katchina which is a more totemic and vertical composition, alluding to a spirit being, replete with feather. Katchina is also significant as it strikes a balance between free-form and contoured shapes within a geometric wood dowel frame of paper. This experiment with form and a paper diffuser, in this case diffusing a spiritual light, continued throughout the 1940s with radiant light sculptures called Akari.

By contrast, and in the same years as the radiant light Akari are first developed, Noguchi embarked on a small series of reflected light artworks called Lunars. The light source in this series is contained within the Magnesite contours of the works, and reflected off the surface of the stone composite. Light is gathered or absorbed within the compositional shapes and applied materials, often filtered or interrupted by translucent plastic or sculpted wood. Light is a representation of sculpture with its own internal energy, both artificial and symbolic. Noguchi returned to the dark, synthetic canyons of New York City. He lamented the departure from the open landscapes of the American west where the ideal conditions for sculpture were brought to life by direct sunlight. In Lunar sculptures, light is a manipulated element, not unlike the physical material or Magnesite or plastic that compose it.

It I my desire to view nature through natures eyes, and to ignore man as an object for special veneration…an unlimited field for abstract sculptural expression would then be realized.” Noguchi

The earliest and largest of these works, Lunar Landscape (1943), features contours connected by vectors of string and cork balls between recesses with internal lighting and color. Having “more to do with interstellar space than with [lamps],” the Lunar sculptures by Isamu Noguchi move beyond the early light experiments of El Lissitzky or Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, beyond optics and kinetics, to enter a realm of the unconscious or the cosmic.

Indeed, a fine balance of spirit with matter can only occur when the artist has so thoroughly submerged himself in the study of the unity of nature as to truly become once more a part of naturea part of the very earth, thus to view the inner surfaces and the life elements Noguchi

Light Sculpture (Lunar), is a standout within the Lunar series. The work is nebulous and sensual, and unique in the series as the light source directly illuminates and activates the wall. This creates a relationship between figure and ground or positive and negative space. The central overlapping lobe of the composition, both illuminates the contours of the sculpture with its concealed light, and forms a dynamic compositional element that obscures or reveals the object and ground. Like an interstellar cloud, or a phantom floating in the ether, Light Sculpture (Lunar) is a dynamic form in space, nearly expressing the passing of celestial bodies during an eclipse. Six protruding colored fins, a cluster of plastic insertions, emerge from a curved plain like claws or rudders while a red disc protrudes from a crater. The prismatic characteristics of these elements absorb the white light of bulb, reflecting only the color our eye perceives. Beyond the ethereal and spiritual, Noguchi unconsciously engages the science of prismatic spectroscopy astronomers use for the study of distant stars. The infinite space beyond the confines of the earth, the architecture of cosmic nebulae, and the subtle, silvery light reflected from the moon defines these works, and defines Noguchi. Noguchi, whose identity is never clearly associated with a national culture, whose use of material or scale is in constant state of experimentation, and whose art is nearly impossible to define, finds greater solace in the infinite of space time than in the linear arc of terrestrial art history.

More from 20th Century: Hong Kong to New York

View All
View All