‘Isamu Noguchi: A New Nature’ reassess the ties between nature and urbanisation

Isamu Noguchi: A New Nature at White Cube Bermondsey brought to life the sculptures by the American sculptor which continue to strike a chord with the contemporary audience.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Apr 15, 2022

Nature and its abundance have a ubiquitous presence in the world of arts. With the onset of industrialisation, proliferating urbanisation and sweeping technology – nature and its many manifestations underwent an irreplaceable change. The need of the hour is to find the balance between the two divergent ways of life – one inclined towards natural habitat and another determined by technological advances. Isamu Noguchi, the American artist and sculptor of the 20th century is touted to be the most critically acclaimed sculptor who strove to engage with the novel forms of nature. His works, be it sculptures, gardens, furniture and lighting designs, ceramics, architecture or the set designs are all culmination of the artistic experimentation.

Isamu Noguchi: A New Nature, White Cube Bermondsey, Installation View | A New Nature | STIRworld
Isamu Noguchi: A New Nature, White Cube Bermondsey, Installation View Image: Courtesy of White Cube (Ollie Hammick); INFGM/ARS

White Cube, Bermondsey presents the exhibition A New Nature of the works by Noguchi in collaboration with The Isamu  Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum. Noguchi, realising the many forms of nature once mentioned, “The nature of trees and grass is one thing, but there are many degrees of nature. Concrete can be nature. Interstellar spaces are also nature. There is human nature. In the city, you have to have a new nature. Maybe you have to create that nature.” The title of the art exhibition is borrowed from the talk Noguchi delivered to the students at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1970 when he implored them to carve “a new nature” from the materials of urbanisation and technology they encountered around them. Interestingly, the works rooted in industrial methods and materials acutely carry an awareness of what is defined as organic.

Isamu Noguchi 666 Fifth Avenue Ceiling (detail) | A New Nature | STIRworld
Isamu Noguchi 666 Fifth Avenue Ceiling (detail) Image: Nicholas Knight, Courtesy of The Noguchi Museum / ARS

In an interview with STIR, Dakin Hart, Senior Art Curator at the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York, mentions, “Isamu Noguchi had a point of view rather than a style. When we install his work, we are generally trying to achieve awareness rather than make a point. Provided with active space, and installed to tap into it, individually or in groups, Noguchi’s sculptures do not need much of a curatorial overlay. They are good at establishing their own terms of engagement. So, more often than not, we just set them up to succeed—sometimes in specific contexts, like here under the rubric of human-made natures—and then get out of the way.”

In a similar vein, the sculptures at the retrospective bring to fore the spectrum of visual vocabulary landscapes, bodies, abstract spatial concepts and natural forces — to bridge the said gap between natural and the manmade. As seen the sculptures which are process-driven as well as playful, the artist has worked consistently to experiment with the Japanese crafts of kirigami and origami and industrial sheet metal manufacture. With Gemini G.E.L., an artists' workshop and publisher of limited edition prints and sculptures located in Los Angeles, Noguchi produced a series of 26 galvanised steel sculpture editions. 

Isamu Noguchi working on the template for an interlocking sculpture in the courtyard of his MacDougal Alley studio, September 25, 1946 | A New Nature | STIRworld
Isamu Noguchi working on the template for an interlocking sculpture in the courtyard of his MacDougal Alley studio, September 25, 1946 Image: Eliot Elisofon, The Noguchi Museum Archives, 03183; Courtesy of The Noguchi Museum / ARS

The light sculptures or Akari lanterns showcase his motive to reiterate the old tradition of craft for a new perspective. In doing so, Noguchi redefined the conventional forms of sculptures in terms of concept and its purpose when the artists laced it with new technologies. The modular geometric play system Octetra by Noguchi was formulated from his friend R Buckminster Fuller’s theories about the fundamental structures of natural forms. According to it, each element is a truncated tetrahedron—they can be endlessly reconfigured. Its earliest examples, for a playground in Japan and later at the plaza in front of Spoleto Cathedral in Italy, were made in concrete. But the five configurations, part of the exhibition, are made of the material that was unavailable to Noguchi – fiberglass. 

Secret, 1982-83, Hot dipped galvanized steel, Isamu Noguchil  | A New Nature | STIRworld
Secret, 1982-83, Hot dipped galvanized steel, Isamu Noguchi Image: Courtesy of The Noguchi Museum (Joshua White/JWPictures.com); The Noguchi Museum / ARS

The 9 x 9 x 9 gallery is inspired by Noguchi’s ideas on simple terracing for playgrounds. It also dwells, though obliquely from Heaven (Tengoku) - a complex step-pyramid environment he designed for the atrium of Sogetsu Kaikan, Tokyo. Presented in the exhibition is “an interactive series of terraces developed from one of his models for that unrealised playground sits below a small cloud-form presentation of Akari lights.” Since the space is transformed unprecedentedly, it encourages both “physical and perceptual interaction”. 

Similar to the plurality available in his large scale installation sculptures when it comes to conceptual thought and material, Hart says, “Noguchi’s vision of art was not cramped and remote; he was open to the world and everything and everyone in it. What unites the range of audiences interested in his work is its diversity, which is a direct reflection of his own personal diversity. Noguchi was a human kaleidoscope.” The grammar of Noguchi’s artistic languages is simple with a touch of the shared human experience which makes him accessible to a variety of audiences. Hart adds, “Kids understand him, through the body. Other creative people are inspired, I think, by the limitlessness of his faith in the power of plugging directly into the world. Everyone seems to sense and respond to his total lack of pretension and pretence.”  

Isamu Noguchi 666 Fifth Avenue Waterfall, Detailed View | A New Nature | STIRworld
Isamu Noguchi 666 Fifth Avenue Waterfall, Detailed View Image: Nicholas Knight, Courtesy of The Noguchi Museum / ARS

If the sculptures at the display demand acute attention from the viewers, they rightly leave them energised. With a perspective that is serene and activating in equal measure, the exhibition of Noguchi’s sculptures, Hart concludes, is  “like staring at the ocean or walking through a forest, if you give yourself up to the experience of it, it will charge you up.”

Figure Emerging, 1982 -83 Hot - dipped galvanized steel | A New Nature | STIRworld
Figure Emerging, 1982 -83 Hot-dipped galvanized steel Image: Courtesy of The Noguchi Museum (Joshua White/JWPictures.com); The Noguchi Museum / ARS
01 min watch Ceiling and Waterfall, 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, 1956-57, Isamu Noguchi | STIRworld
Ceiling and Waterfall, 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, 1956-57, Isamu Noguchi Video: Courtesy of White Cube (Jon Lowe)
Portrait of the artist Isamu Noguchi | STIRworld
Artist Isamu Noguchi Image: Courtesy of White Cube

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