The son of a Japanese father and an American mother, Isamu Noguchi
was born in Los Angeles and raised in Japan until the age of thirteen.
Throughout his long and prolific career as an artist, both cultures
were influential in his artistic development.
Noguchi began his artistic career studying figurative sculpture at
the Leonardo Da Vinci School of Art in New York. In 1927 he worked with
Constantin Brancusi in Paris and made his first abstract sculptures
of wood, metal, and stone. In 1930 he created large ink-brush paintings
in China with the master Chíi Pai-shih; the next year he worked
in ceramics in Kyoto.
Beginning in the late 1930s and throughout his career, Noguchi produced
a number of landscape gardens and public sculptures in Paris, New York
City, Hiroshima, Jerusalem, Mexico City, Seattle, and elsewhere. Inspired
by the gardens he had seen in Japan, these works embody his views on
the interrelationships of sculpture with the earth and the environment
and his preferences for natural materials and organic shapes. In 1985
he established the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum in a factory building
and sculpture garden across the street from his studio in Long Island
City, New York.
Noguchi is known not only for his large-scale landscape installations
but also for his smaller biomorphic sculptures. The Balance Stone
is one of the many carvings Noguchi created in his studio in Mure, on
the Japanese island of Shikoku. From 1969 to the end of his life, Noguchi
returned to Mure every year for about three months each spring and three
months each fall. Working with a local stonecutter, Masatoshi Izumi,
and his crew, Noguchi created a number of large-scale sculptures made
of granite and basalt that are arguably his greatest sculptural achievement
and the culmination of his career.
While much of his previous carving had been done in marble, in Mure
he began to use local materials that were harder to carve. Granite and
basalt slowed down Noguchiís pace of carving and focused his
attention on stone in a new way. Stone became a symbol of nature and
carving became a metaphor for the human confrontation with the temporal.
Focusing on the stone itself, Noguchi often left part of the rockís
surface unworked, revealing where it had been torn from the earth or
displaying its rich natural "skin." He employed different
textures chosen from a vocabulary of surface treatmentsuntouched
natural exteriors, areas of small chisel marks, ragged edges where one
stone had been broken from another, smoothly polished surfaceseach
of which also had a different color. The colors that of basalt are the
most striking, with its rusty brown "skin" and deep hue that
emerges with polishing. Noguchi's methods in working the stone surface
varied also; he freely used power tools as well as the traditional chisel
and hammer. Thus The Balance Stone incorporates the apparent
opposites of the organic and the geometric, the ancient and the modern,
and the hand and the machine.
The New Britain sculpture has an interesting history, for an earlier
incarnation of this sculpture included an additional element sitting
in the V on what is currently its uppermost stone. This "balancing"
of three elements atop one another is probably what suggested the title,
but Noguchi had removed the third part by the time the sculpture was
shown in his seventy-fifth birthday exhibition, at New York's Pace Gallery
in 1980. The process was wholly characteristic of his working method,
in which he would continue to examine his sculptures and to make changes,
even after a piece was considered finished. The resulting two-element
sculpture presents a deep, polished V at the top, exemplifying what
Noguchi called in 1980 his "investigation on the inside . . . a
kind of research into the stone."
Dore Ashton, Noguchi: East and West (New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
Bruce Altshuler, Isamu Noguchi (New York: Abbeville Press, 1994)
This essay has been condensed from a
larger manuscript written by Margaret Stenz for the museum's collection