Isamu Noguchi

17th November 1904 – 30th December 1988

Photo of Isamu Noguchi
Imagine sitting on your own, personal sculpture, or setting your evening cocktail on a genuine piece of 20th century art.

For the lucky few who own a piece of furniture designed by Japanese-American designer Isamu Noguchi, what might sound like a once-in-a-lifetime happening is an everyday occurrence. Because this world-renowned fine artist is almost as famous for his beautiful furniture designs.

Where the bulk of design’s modernist masters trained as architects, Isamu Noguchi’s primary goal was to become a fine artist. He trained under the man who carved George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and the lot’s faces into Mount Rushmore. Unfortunately, he thought Noguchi lacked the talent to become a sculptor, and the budding artist gave up his dream and began studying to become a doctor.

A little encouragement set Noguchi back on the path toward his goal – where he was told over and over again that his work was utter crap. Proposals were rejected, completed works were poorly received, and while he enjoyed intermittent success, he wound up volunteering to be interned at a camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II. His hope was to bring art to the space, but as might be expected, that wasn’t quite in line with the US government’s agenda. He left the camp without permission, never to return.

Luckily, the world he reentered in the 1940s was changing. The surrealist movement was suddenly all the rage, and Noguchi was a part of it, creating mixed media works, self-illuminating reliefs and “biomorphic” sculptures that finally cemented his place in the New York art world.

Thus ordained as a talent worth reckoning with, Noguchi was invited to design sets for famed choreographer Martha Graham. And more importantly – at least in our arena – he was recruited by Knoll and Herman Miller to bring his artist’s eye to a line of furniture and lamps.

A passionate belief that sculpture can be useful in everyday life inspired the iconic, elegant designs for what are commonly known as the Noguchi coffee table and the Noguchi Sofa and Ottoman. Other pieces include Cyclone Tables, Rocking Stools, lamps and even cutlery, teacups and scarves.

Isamu Noguchi’s work serves to remind the world of what can happen when fine art and the everyday intersect. Thanks to Noguchi, everyone can own a genuine piece of art – even if it’s only something to put a drink on.

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