Isamu Noguchi, Archaic/Modern

November 11, 2016 – March 19, 2017

Smithsonian American Art Museum (8th and F Streets, NW)

The exhibition explores how the ancient world shaped this artist’s innovative vision for the future.

Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) was among the most innovative American sculptors of the twentieth century, creating works that were far ahead of his time. His design for Sculpture to Be Seen from Mars (1947) anticipates the space age by several decades. Yet Noguchi frequently found inspiration in ancient art and architecture, from Egyptian pyramids, to Buddhist temples and Zen gardens, to American Indian burial mounds. The exhibition Isamu Noguchi, Archaic/Modern explores how the ancient world shaped this artist’s innovative vision for the future.

Isamu Noguchi, Archaic/Modern brings together seventy-four works, nearly all on loan from The Noguchi Museum, made over six decades. The artworks reflect Noguchi’s striving for timelessness through the abstraction of things, places and ideas. Featured works—including several monolithic basalt sculptures, fountains, designs for stage sets and playgrounds and floating Akari light sculptures—are organized in themes of particular interest to Noguchi: landscape, invention, the atomic age, outer space, and social spaces. Noguchi saw himself as equal parts artist and inventor and the exhibition devotes special attention to his patented designs, such as Radio Nurse—the first baby monitor, and includes his designs for stage sets, playgrounds, and utilitarian articles, many of which are still being produced today.

Noguchi was born in the United States to an American mother and Japanese father, and spent his childhood in Japan and teenage years in the American Midwest. He had a complex perspective on the events of World War II and drew on his unique global perspective to create artworks that confront both the positive and negative consequences of progress—from the devastating effect of the atomic bomb to the potential of atomic energy and promise of the space age, both of which are addressed in this thematically organized exhibition.

Dakin Hart, senior curator at The Noguchi Museum, and Karen Lemmey, sculpture curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, organized the exhibition. The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the sole venue for this exhibition, which is expanded from an earlier installation at The Noguchi Museum.

View 2016 Online Gallery


The accompanying catalogue, titled Isamu Noguchi, Archaic/Modern, Co-published with D Giles Ltd. It is available for purchase online.

Exhibition Catalog