Modernist 20th Century /07 December 2003


Isamu Noguchi

Rudder stool, model IN-22
Herman Miller
USA, c. 1948
enameled birch, steel, rubber
13 w × 20 d × 17 h in (33 × 51 × 43 cm)

Isamu Noguchi sought to make sculpture useful in everyday life and his furniture designs are an important part of this idea. In November 1942, Noguchi returned to New York after six months in a Japanese-American relocation camp and moved into a studio at 33 MacDougal Alley in Greenwich Village. Much of Noguchi's work from this period was aligned with the Surrealists, and it was at the MacDougal Alley studio in 1944 that he carved the biomorphic sculptures of interlocking elements that established his reputation in the New York School. In 1946, Noguchi participated in the seminal exhibition "14 Americans" at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The rudder stool and table evolved out of his explorations of form at this time. Herman Miller Furniture Company in Zeeland, Michigan under George Nelson's direction began production of the designs in 1948, and they had a mixed reception in the marketplace. Ultimately, the designs proved too avant-garde for the general public, and the production ceased after only three years.

provenance: Henri Morgenroth, Santa Barbara

estimate: $20,000–30,000
result: $21,240

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Isamu Noguchi 1904–1988

Isamu Noguchi was the son of Yone Noguchi, a Japanese poet, and Léonie Gilmour, an American writer. He was born in Los Angeles in 1904 but lived in Japan from the age of two until 1918 when he returned to the United States to attend school in Indiana. In 1922 Noguchi moved to New York to study pre-medicine at Columbia University. He also took night courses in sculpture with Onorio Ruotolo and soon after, he left Columbia in pursuit of a career in the arts.

In 1927 Noguchi received a Guggenheim Fellowship for a trip to Paris and the Far East. For six months in Paris, he worked in the studio of Constantin Brancusi and his own work became more abstract as Noguchi explored working with stone, wood and sheet metal. Noguchi returned to New York and in 1929 he met R. Buckminster Fuller and Martha Graham, colleagues and friends with whom he would later collaborate. In 1938 Noguchi was commissioned to complete a work for the Associated Press building in the Rockefeller Center in New York. Marking his first public sculpture, this work garnered attention and recognition for the artist in the United States.

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