Isamu Noguchi and Jeanne Reynal

Friends, Artists and Collaborators

In 1941 Isamu Noguchi joined Arshile Gorky on a road trip west to California where Gorky would have an exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art thanks to their friend and patron, Jeanne Reynal. Aside from supporting the arts through collecting, Reynal was a pioneering mosaic artist working in the tradition of abstract expressionism. Noguchi would spend much of the year and part of 1942 in California and during his stay he would collaborate with Jeanne Reynal making a table that would feature a mosaic design.

Photo by Kevin Noble ©The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York

This early table, currently residing within the collection of The Noguchi Museum, features a sculptural, organic-shaped base made of painted magnesite (a cement-like material that both Reynal and Noguchi used in their work) and an abstract mosaic tile top. Reynal and Noguchi aimed to sell the table but failed to do so quickly; in a letter to Noguchi (March, c. 1942), Reynal writes: “Shall I send you the table we made together. Maybe you could sell it in New York. People have looked at it here. Nibbles only. Tell me about this.” In the end the table was never sent to Noguchi and Reynal lived with it until her passing in 1983.

The present lot is the second known example of this table design. The table comes from a private West Coast collection, the owner a mosaic artist and friend of Jeanne Reynal. The table was presumably acquired sometime between 1941 and 1946 when Reynal moved to New York. Further attesting to the table’s vintage, the owner’s Marin County home was featured in numerous bay area publications in 1952 and images from the photo shoots include this table. While The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum does not have documentation concerning more than one table by Noguchi and Reynal, it is not hard to imagine that another may have been made and there is at least conversation between the artists about the possibility; in December of 1944, Reynal writes to Agnes (Magouch) Magruder Gorky: “Isamu writes AGAIN that he wants to come west, get Ann divorced, spend some time in the mountains, make some tables and remarry or rather marry Ann [Matta’s wife].”

The present lot in the owner's Marin County home, c. 1952.

Noguchi didn’t end up traveling to California (nor did he marry Ann). Aside from the single letter documenting the collaboration of the  one table in the museum’s collection, the Noguchi Archive only has Noguchi’s account of his prior projects (done in the late 1950s and early 1960s) where he lists “table for Jeanne Reynal”.  Whether Noguchi was involved or aware of the creation of the example offered here we may never know, but we do know it follows his design. The table’s asymmetrical base is an exploration of form and negative space and like his other works his idea of sculpture is not compromised. The table offered here matches the museum’s example in shape, form and construction. It follows the same lines, though it does measure roughly one-inch shorter in each direction, a variance that can be attributed to the tables’ construction. Hollow and not cast, both tables are made with an interior frame covered in burlap.

The tables vary in color; the museum’s example is made of natural magnesite and painted white while the present example features dyed magnesite that has been painted black. While different, the use of dyed magnesite does appear elsewhere in Noguchi’s oeuvre in works such as Red Lunar Fist (1944) and Untitled wall piece (c. 1943), therefore the shift is understandable given the tables’ wildly different motifs. The colorful abstract mosaic by Reynal atop the museum’s example almost reads as an homage to their shared friend Gorky, while the mosaic featured here is more of a nod to Picasso and cubism, a genre Reynal studied. Though different in color, the tiles have a matte sheen, common among Reynal’s mosaics.

Clearly the design of the present table is by Noguchi. The history, construction and provenance of the work all point to Noguchi’s involvement but without explicit documentation this example is an attribution and not definitively part of Noguchi’s recognized artistic oeuvre.