For over a century, we have talked about the " meeting of east and west ." It is often said that it is impossible to do it in the realm of art. For instance, Ryusaburo Umehara had achieved certain level, but his results often seems unfinished - intensive imitation. However, the artwork by Isamu Noguchi had achieved such a significant meeting. In the following sections, Noguchi's life and his artwork will be discussed through his garden museum.

The Museum

The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum in Long Island City, displays a comprehensive collection of artwork by sculptor Isamu Noguchi ( 1904-1988 ) in a tranquil setting created by the artist. On exhibition are more than two hundreds fifty works, including stone, wood, metal and clay sculptures, models for public projects and gardens, dance sets, furnishings, and Noguchi's Akari light sculptures. A garden in the museum was also designed by the artist, which contains granite and basalt sculptures, presenting one of the most dramatic installations of art in New York City.

The Artist's Background

Isamu Noguchi was born in Los Angeles in 1904. His father was an internationally acclaimed Japanese poet, and his mother was an American writer. Noguchi was brought to Japan when he was two years old and sent alone back to the United states for schooling at the age of thirteen. He worked briefly in 1922 as an assistant to Gutzon Borglum, sculptor of the famous Mount Rushmore monument, and then educated as a premedical student at Columbia University. In 1927, a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship allowed him to travel to Paris, where he apprenticed in the studio of the Rumanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi. He then traveled and studied in England, China and Mexico. He won the national competition to decorate the Associated Press Building in Rockefeller Center, New York City, with a huge relief sculpture of stainless steel, executed in 1938. He also designed stage sets and costumes for the modern dancers Martha Graham, and for George Balanchine�s New York City Ballet. In 1950, Noguchi returned to Japan to see Zen garden. After 1950, his largest projects expanding the limited role of sculptors were outdoor spaces designed on the aesthetic principles of Japanese gardens, in which large abstract sculptures were precisely sited to achieve balanced relationships between them, their defined space or garden, and the architecture surrounding them. Outstanding examples are the Garden of Peace ( 1956-58, Unesco Headquarters Building, Paris ), Sunken Garden at Yale University ( 1960-64, Connecticut ), the Water Garden ( 1964-65, Chase Manhattan Bank Plaza, New York City ), Gardens for IBM Headquarters ( 1964, Armonk, New York ), the Billy Rose Art Garden ( 1960-65, Jerusalem, Israel ), and Playground for Riverside Drive Park ( 1966, New York ). He also created nine fountains for Expo'70, Osaka, Japan ( 1970 ), and devised a fountain for the Detroit Civic Center Plaza ( 1975 ). In all, Noguchi created twenty gardens, plazas, and playgrounds. Throughout his career he also designed other aspect ; home furnishings and interiors such as modern tables, chairs, and Japanese-style lamp ( Akari ). Noguchi had received a number of awards including National Medal of Arts awarded by President Ronald Reagan.

Structure of the Museum Garden

The museum garden was designed by Noguchi in 1981, and constructed on land across the street from his studio in 1985. He moved earth, set stones, placed plants in the space. Westerners must think of this garden as a Japanese garden, because they could not find the significant element of a western garden represented by the materials like flowers and grasses but could find a lot of materials used for a Japanese garden like stones, water, and literally Japanese plants.

For Japanese, however, the garden looks somewhat eccentric compared with a traditional Japanese garden. Exactly, we could find Japanese plants such as bamboo, black pine tree, and katsura tree, but likewise, we could see western plants such as weeping cherry tree, magnolia, and British ivy. Also, originally, a Japanese garden was the place for meditation or tea ceremony, so they were trying to create a small and tranquil universe by using natural stones - none of artificial materials - and putting them to appreciate for it�s own natural beauty. The idea is " borrow of nature ". However, Noguchi does the opposite. In this garden, stones are chopped up, carved, manipulated, and then placed to be looked at. In addition, a Japanese garden is usually appreciated from the outside of the garden like a tea room or a Japanese verandah ( roka ). In this garden, on the other hand, there is a passage way inside of the garden, which is designed around the inner space of it so that visitors can appreciate the garden from the inside.

For these aspects, it is not possible to define Noguchi�s garden as Japanese one.


When Noguchi designed this garden, he placed various eastern and western kind of trees together in the space of the garden. This idea indicates that he was trying to create a harmony between the opposite; east and west. Thus, Noguchi�s garden is identified as the harmony of eastern and western tradition ( Altshuler, 9 ). Such an artist�s view of a garden seems to be remarkably unique. It is a broadened concept of art.

His broadened view stems from his relationship with Japan. He was brought to Japan at the age of two by his Ameican mother. He had lived there for eleven years. He enjoyed a Japanese childhood in Tigasaki surrounded by nature. The artist�s attraction for things Japanese must be strongly influenced by this early history. Japan remained tied to happy memories of childhood ( Altshuler, 92 ). On the other hand, " Noguchi always considered himself an American, with a schooled adolescence and a long New York artistic career � ( Altshuler, 92 ).

However, he was convinced his identity or root by Japan. When he returned to Japan in 1931, he spent five months in Kyoto. At that time, he encountered Zen garden. Noguchi remarks, � there still remains unbroken the familiarity with nature in Japan " ( Altshuler, 39 ). He was strongly impressed by the element of the Zen garden. This was the beginning of his study of Japanese garden theory, a major influence on his future landscape design ( Altshuler, 92 ). It must be no accident. His childhood experiences kept his mind on Japan, and the Japanese garden was for him a example of the spatial environment. Afterwards, he continuously went back to Japan to study traditional Japanese garden element.

Through his parents he physically embodied both east and west, his identity also embodied both east and west in his artwork.


The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum has illustrated the significant elements of the artist, Isamu Noguchi through his artwork. The most significant element done by him is a new creation combining eastern and western tradition, which goes beyond an international style. In this point, Noguchi completed the modernist project in a unique synthesis of the art of the east and west .



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