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Exhibition devoted to Isamu Noguchi's tools, techniques, and studio practice opens
Isamu Noguchi working in stone yard at his Mure, Japan studio, 1975. Photographer unknown.
NEW YORK, NY.- The Noguchi Museum opened Hammer, Chisel, Drill: Noguchi’s Studio Practice, the first exhibition to explore the distinctive working methods of Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988), one of the most critically acclaimed sculptors of the twentieth century. In the course of his peripatetic, sixty-year career, Noguchi established a succession of studios around the world—in the United States, Italy, and Japan—and their geographic locations and cultural milieus profoundly influenced his artistic development and production.

With objects drawn from the incomparable holdings of The Noguchi Museum, the display features an array of hand- and industrial tools owned by the artist, archival photos and film footage of Noguchi at work, and a relevant selection of finished as well as unfinished sculptures. The exhibition remains on view through April 28, 2013.

Jenny Dixon, director of The Noguchi Museum, states: “Noguchi’s sculpture represents an exquisite blend of craft and creativity. Thanks to its rich holdings of materials that document all aspects of Noguchi’s working methods, the Museum is able to explore the artist’s craft and technique in this fascinating exhibition. By taking visitors behind the scenes into Noguchi’s studios, Hammer, Chisel, Drill provides a rare opportunity to appreciate the extraordinary technical prowess and perfectionism behind his artistic achievement.”

Hammer, Chisel, Drill: Noguchi’s Studio Practice forsakes a chronological path in favor of one that is organized around the working methods that Noguchi used in his most important studios, which were located in New York (Greenwich Village and Long Island City), Italy (Pietrasanta and Querceta), and Japan (Kita Kamakura and Mure).

The exhibition begins by focusing on the brief but transformative period beginning in spring 1927 that Noguchi spent in the Paris studio of the revolutionary abstract sculptor Constantin Brancusi, who encouraged the young artist to carve directly into stone (rather than first creating a clay or plaster model), and who advocated the use of simple, old-fashioned hand-tools. Among the items on display is a chemin de fer, a primitive, rasp-like instrument that Noguchi reportedly used to assist Brancusi in the carving of one of the elder artist’s iconic Birds in Space. Also on view are two of Noguchi’s own early abstract sculptures, Sail Shape (ca. 1928) and Globular (1928), and film footage of Brancusi’s studio, a live-work space with a showroom that would serve as a model for Noguchi’s own future studios.

Stone Carving
The next section features three studio periods: MacDougal Alley (1940s), Pietrasanta and Querceta, Italy (1960s–1980s), and Mure (1969–1988), in all of which Noguchi focused on stone carving. The artist lived and worked in his first long-term studio, located in Greenwich Village’s MacDougal Alley, from 1943 to 1949. The so-called interlocking sculptures of this period, made of flat, biomorphically shaped sheets of stone, were in part an adaptive response to the ready availability and low cost of slabs of marble and slate, which were used for building-facing and gravestones. However, the thinness of the sheets and the precision cutting they required obliged Noguchi to utilize power tools—a notable departure from the dictums of Brancusi. Among the objects on view here are the motor-driven, flexible shaft Noguchi used at this time; archival photographs showing maquettes for his slab sculptures set up in the studio and others showing the artist in the studio; and two finished works from this period, Gregory (Effigy) and Seed, both 1946.

Noguchi’s time in studios in the neighboring Italian towns of Pietrasanta and Querceta, which were close to the famed marble quarries of Monte Altissimo (founded by Michelangelo), helped to rekindle his interest in direct stone-carving and in further experimentation with marble sculpture. Here, he had access to marble not only from Monte Altissimo, but also from locations throughout the world, as Pietrasanta was the site of stone importers as well as quarries owned by the firm Henraux.

In the Italian studios, Noguchi learned to use technology that enabled discrete pieces of marble to become unified into “single” forms that appear to be flexible. In the exhibition, this is visible in The Opening (1970), which comprises alternating bands of rose and white marble, seamlessly conjoined and shaped to create the illusion of a bending tube.

At the same time, the artist also worked with the raw qualities of just-quarried stone, as seen in works such as the large-scale Untitled (c. 1964), one of several in which he utilized the jagged cuts of such stone. Also on view here is a selection of the pneumatic air hammers and shaft grinders the artist used for his marble sculpting, as well as a video, made ca. 1970, showing him at work in his Pietrasanta studio.

In contrast to the materials used in Italy, it was the abundance of hard, igneous stones, such as granite and basalt, that attracted Noguchi to Mure, on the Japanese island of Shikoku, where he established his second studio in Japan, in 1969—the first was in Kita Kamakura, in 1952—and spent half of each year until his death. The massive hammers and thick chisel heads used at Mure, as well as a pair of unfinished granite sculptures, eloquently convey the physical challenges of working with such materials. Nonetheless, Noguchi seems to have found the slower, more gradual pace of work at Mure congenial, encouraging a degree of improvisation and enabling him to allow his forms to develop and evolve over time, recalling the classical idea of allowing an image to emerge from the stone.

Headquarters for Architectural and Landscape Projects
In 1961, Noguchi moved into and created the Tenth Street studio in New York’s Long Island City, across from the building that would become The Noguchi Museum. This served as a permanent home-base and organizational headquarters for the many and varied projects that occupied him for the last twenty-five years of his life. In this section of the exhibition, Noguchi’s drafting table, surrounded by plaster models for such prestigious commissions as the Sunken Garden of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University (1960–1964) and the Philip H. Hart Plaza in Detroit (1972–1979), evokes the Tenth Street studio’s function as the nerve center of the artist’s professional life.

The studio’s living quarters—designed and executed in collaboration with a Japanese furniture designer and master carpenter—also served as a personal museum, echoing the example of Brancusi. Many of the traditional Japanese woodworking tools that Noguchi used for this project are displayed here, along with photographs showing the rooms’ original appearance.

Clay and Ceramics
The final section of the exhibition takes us back to the early 1950s when, after spending most of 1949 traveling, Noguchi befriended a number of young architects and artists in Japan, leading to various collaborations. In 1952, he established his first studio in Japan, in the countryside at Kita Kamakura, and embarked on an intense period of experimentation with clay sculpture and ceramics, while also working on paper forms for his Akari light sculptures. His live-in studio—a primitive lean-to of earthen walls constructed under Noguchi’s direction—was itself an extension of the artist’s sustained involvement with organic and regional materials at this time. In addition to photographs of Noguchi at work at Kita Kamakura, this section includes a display of the clay modeling and shaping tools he used, as well as two of his ceramic stoneware sculptures, Lonely Tower (1952) and Daruma (1952).



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