Isamu Noguchi (1904 – 1988) was a prominent Japanese American artist and landscape architect whose artistic career spanned six decades, from the 1920s onward. Known for his sculpture and public works, Noguchi also designed stage sets for various Martha Graham productions, and several mass-produced lamps and furniture pieces, some of which are still manufactured and sold.
In 1947, Noguchi began a collaboration with the Herman Miller company, when he joined with George Nelson, Paul László and Charles Eames to produce a catalog containing what is often considered to be the most influential body of modern furniture ever produced, including the iconic Noguchi table which remains in production today. His work lives on around the world and at the Noguchi Museum in New York City.
Noguchi believed the sculptor's task was to shape space, to give it order and meaning, and that art should "disappear," or be as one with its surroundings. Perhaps it was his dual heritage—his father was a Japanese poet, his mother a Scottish-American writer—that resulted in his way of looking at the world with an eye for "oneness."
His extraordinary range of projects included playgrounds and plazas, furniture and gardens, the stone-carved busts, and Akari paper lights, so delicate they could be folded and put into an envelope. He also designed numerous stage sets for dancer-choreographer Martha Graham, who was as much an influence on him as was his mentor, Constantin Brancusi.
Noguchi was intelligent, articulate, and sensitive. During World War II, at a dark time in U.S. history, he voluntarily entered a relocation camp for Japanese-Americans in Arizona—and then was unable to get permission to leave. After seven months, he was granted liberation. "I was finally free," he said gratefully. ". . . I resolved henceforth to be an artist only."
His relationship with Herman Miller came about when a design of his was used to illustrate an article written by George Nelson called "How to Make a Table." It became his famous "coffee table," originally introduced in 1947 and reissued in 1984.
Other notable commissions include the gardens for the UNESCO Building in Paris, five fountains for the Supreme Court Building in Tokyo, and a high-relief mural for the Abelardo Rodriguez Market in Mexico City.
Noguchi died in 1988 after a brilliant career that spanned more than six decades. For someone who was told by his first art teacher at age 15 that he'd "never be a sculptor," he left an amazing legacy.