The art and landscape architecture of sculptor Isamu Noguchi transported a sold-out audience to a time and place that this influential American designer once occupied.

Marc Treib, Professor Emeritus of Architecture at University of California Berkley, delivered an enlightening presentation through a succession of well-curated slides, which explored the extraordinary depth and breadth of Noguchi‘s work spanning over half a century during the 20th century.

“Noguchi is best known for his sculptures that integrate aspects of both western modernity and Japanese tradition,” said Marc about the sculptor who was born to an American mother and Japanese father.

From his early works in the 1930s to his acclaimed California Scenario masterwork in the 1980s, Marc said that Noguchi succeeded in conceiving and constructing a series of very remarkable places.

However, Marc dismissed the notion that Noguchi was primarily a sculptor who worked in stone, noting the works he produced in aluminium, and the forms he cast in bronze and stainless steel. Noguchi further developed his artistic aesthetic when he designed stage décor for dance in the 1930s which would inform his later work.

“Both landscape and sculpture, he believed, had space at their very root.”

“Noguchi occupies a space well removed from normal landscape architecture. Instead, as an artist he relied more on intuitive thought rather than functional analysis. He shaped his landscapes as if making sculpture,” said Marc.

“For the most part they differed markedly from landscapes produced by landscape architects or architects. Utility entered into his considerations, of course, and so did people, but they were different. These landscapes were intended as sculpture. Spatial sculpture; works of art,” explained Marc.

“Both landscape and sculpture, he believed, had space at their very root.”

Marc highlighted a number of Noguchi’s landscapes some never realised and those constructed to much acclaim such as Rose Sculpture Garden 1965 at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem; court yards and terrace for the Connecticut General Life Insurance building 1956; Garden of Peace at UNESCO House 1958, Paris; and garden and fountain for New Readers Digest building 1951, Tokyo.

Noguchi’s body of work elevates landscape architecture to the level of art and it illustrates how there is room in the profession for landscapes that do more than just satisfy the pragmatics and the client brief.

Marc Treib asked us: “Can we or should we accept the idea that a garden or a plaza is regarded as sculpture or even that a landscape can or should even be conceived by its maker in just that way?”This article is based on a lecture The Landscapes of Isamu Noguchi: The Garden as Sculpture delivered by Marc Treib on Tuesday 18 October 2016 at State Library of Queensland. It was sponsored  by ATCH (Architecture Theory Criticism History) Research Centre, UQ Architecture; Landscape Architecture, School of Design, Creative Industries Faculty, QUT; and State Library of Queensland, Asia Pacific Design Library.

Image: Noguchi Isamu California Scenario Costa Mesa CA 1982 Evening view of wedge.

References

Marc Treib

Modern landscape architecture : a critical review

White cube, green maze : new art landscapes

The Noguchi Museum

Anita Lewis

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