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Design: Isamu Noguchi and Isamu Kenmochi
Isamu Noguchi and Yoshiko Yamaguchi in Chuo Koron Gallery, Japan, 1952-53. Photographer unknown. Courtesy The Noguchi Museum.

LONG ISLAND CITY, NY.-The Noguchi Museum presents Design: Isamu Noguchi and Isamu Kenmochi, an exhibition that explores the dynamic and productive working relationship between artist-designer Isamu Noguchi and the man credited with the invention of what came to be known as “Japanese Modern.” For just under two years beginning in 1950, Noguchi and interior designer Isamu Kenmochi, who worked at the Industrial Arts Research Institute (IARI), in Tokyo, worked together, pushing at the boundaries that separated tradition from modernism, hand crafting from mechanical production.

Design: Isamu Noguchi and Isamu Kenmochi, which remains on view through March 16, 2008, explores this collaboration and other work by the two men with a rich selection of some eighty-five works borrowed from collections in Japan and the United States. These will trace Noguchi’s early furniture designs, including their impact on Kenmochi, while revealing the latter’s important contributions to twentieth-century design.

Noguchi Museum Curator Bonnie Rychlak, who organized the exhibition, comments, “Noguchi and Kenmochi shared an interest in modernist design mixed with admiration for traditional Japanese form and craft. When they worked together, beginning in 1950, each man brought his own strengths and background to the creation of beautiful and interesting furniture that was among the most forward-looking of its era. I hope that visitors to the exhibition will leave the Museum with a greater appreciation not only of the work of each man, but of the powerful role that collaboration can play in creativity.”

Design: Isamu Noguchi and Isamu Kenmochi will present furniture, interior- and industrial-design objects, and drawings and photographs. These will illuminate the two men’s shared interest in Japanese traditions of simplicity, craft, and functionality, and their commitment to combining these with experimental techniques and materials typical of modern Western design.

While Noguchi’s modernist aesthetic derived from his roots in New York, as well as a year-long apprenticeship in Brancusi’s Paris studio, Kenmochi’s was linked to his country’s efforts to recover from the Second World War, and was especially evident in his focus on chairs, a symbol of the “westernization” of Japan.

Two important chairs are among the first objects in the exhibition. One of these, Noguchi and Kenmochi’s bamboo-and-iron Bamboo Basket Chair, is a strikingly original work made in 1950 at the IARI. The origins of the chair lay in Kenmochi’s desire to adapt the structure and techniques of traditional bamboo basket weaving to the backrest and seat of a chair. While he envisioned a wood frame for the chair, Noguchi proposed that they use a bent iron rod. The result is an object of both textural and formal beauty and also a great technical accomplishment, combining the natural elasticity and strength of bamboo with the durability and efficiency of iron. The Bamboo Basket Chair—which is no longer extant but has been replicated for the exhibition—thus combines the lightness of modernist aesthetic with the warmth, charm, and tactility associated with traditional craft.

A replica of Kenmochi’s Bamboo Chair, designed shortly after he worked with Noguchi on the Bamboo Basket Chair, has also been specially commissioned for this exhibition. Kenmochi’s edition is a different kind of bamboo chair, one that also incorporates the single iron frame but adapts wide strips of bamboo, distinguished as “not knitted,” as described by the fabricator for both chairs. Only five of these were made, all of which have been lost or destroyed.

Another important highlight of Design: Isamu Noguchi and Isamu Kenmochi are the benches, chairs, and table retrieved from the now destroyed Shin Banraisha, of 1951–52, on view for the first time in the U.S. Designed by Noguchi in association with Kenmochi and architect Yoshiro Taniguchi, Shin Banraisha, or “New Welcoming Space,” comprised a ground-floor room and adjoining outdoor garden created for Keio University as part of its postwar rebuilding effort, and it is widely viewed as a masterpiece of twentieth-century art and design.

Also in the exhibition are two vintage examples of Kenmochi’s strikingly original 1959 Rattan Round Chair. Winner of the 1966 Good Design Award in Japan, this chair, which is in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, has been in production in Japan for many years. In May 2007, The Noguchi Museum became the sole U.S. distributor of this chair, as well as of the settee from the same line of furniture.

Other items in Design: Isamu Noguchi and Isamu Kenmochi include a variety of additional furniture and interior-design objects by both Noguchi and Kenmochi, as well as drawings that reveal the evolution of ideas and a generous selection of archival photographs. The latter include pictures of now-lost furniture, much of it shown in the rooms for which it was designed; various iterations of Kenmochi’s carefully designed showroom, which he changed periodically, creating installations called “Living Art”; advertisements; and the two men at work or relaxing, among other subjects.

The installation of Design: Isamu Noguchi and Isamu Kenmochi will incorporate a variety of materials, objects, and forms that evoke the era and places in which the two men worked. These will include, for example, components of Kenmochi’s “Living Art” installations.

Publication - In conjunction with Design: Isamu Noguchi and Isamu Kenmochi, The Noguchi Museum will publish a 60-page, illustrated publication of the same name. This will contain essays by Ms. Rychlak; Hitoshi Mori, an authority on Isamu Kenmochi and curator at the Matsudo City Board of Education, in Chiba, Japan; and doctoral candidate Nina Murayama; and an intimate reflection on Kenmochi and modern Japanese design by Tetsuo Matsumoto, president of Kenmochi Design Associates.

Isamu Noguchi - Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) was one of the most critically acclaimed sculptors of the twentieth century. Through a lifetime of artistic experimentation, he created sculpture, gardens, furniture, lighting and interior designs, ceramics, architecture, and set designs. His work, at once subtle and bold, traditional and modern, set a new standard for artistic achievement. Although based in New York, Noguchi was an internationalist, and he traveled extensively throughout his life. (In his later years, he maintained studios both in Japan and New York.) He discovered the impact of large-scale public works in Mexico, earthy ceramics and tranquil gardens in Japan, subtle ink-brush techniques in China, and the purity of marble in Italy. Noguchi collaborated with artists and thinkers in a range of disciplines. Besides Kenmochi, he worked closely with architects Gordon Bunshaft and Louis Kahn, designer and inventor Buckminster Fuller, and dancer and choreographer Martha Graham, among others.

Isamu Kenmochi - Isamu Kenmochi (1912–1971) was a pioneer of industrial design and a leading proponent of “Japanese Modern,” a fusion of Western modernism with traditional Japanese materials and techniques. In 1932, Kenmochi began working at the government-sponsored Industrial Arts Research Institute in Tokyo, where he produced standardized goods. In 1952, after working closely with Noguchi at the Institute, Kenmochi traveled to the U.S and Europe, where he met designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, Walter Gropius, and Mies van der Rohe, and collected thousands of slides documenting American and European design. In 1955, he established his own firm, Kenmochi Design Associates, and three years later received a gold medal for his interior design of the Japanese Pavilion at the 1958 Exposition in Brussels.

The Nogu

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