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Major exhibition features works by Noguchi and Qi Baishi side-by-side
Isamu Noguchi, Peking Drawing (man sitting), 1930. Horizontal hanging scroll, ink on paper, 41 x 76.3 inches. The Noguchi Museum.

LONG ISLAND CITY, NY.- Isamu Noguchi and Qi Baishi: Beijing 1930 is a major exhibition exploring the relationship between the two artists established in 1930 when, at the age of twenty six, Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) stopped in Beijing en route to Japan. Sotokichi Katsuizumi, a Japanese businessman and collector of Chinese painting, introduced young Noguchi to Qi Baishi (1864–1957), who is considered one of the most influential ink painters in China in the 20th century. For six months, Noguchi worked with the eminent artist in his studio, developing a new vision of abstraction.

The exhibition comprises more than fifty drawings, ink paintings, calligraphic works, and sculptures by both artists seen side-by-side for the first time, thus providing a unique opportunity to observe how Noguchi’s vision of abstraction was transformed and reinvented during his time in Beijing. In addition to examining the influences the elder artist’s practice had on Noguchi, Isamu Noguchi and Qi Baishi also illuminates their respective and lasting effects on contemporary art internationally.

Opened The Noguchi Museum, in New York City, on September 25, 2013 and on view through January 26, 2014, Isamu Noguchi and Qi Baishi: Beijing 1930 is organized by the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) in collaboration with The Noguchi Museum. The works are on loan from the UMMA’s collection (including works given by Katsuizumi to the University, his alma mater); The Noguchi Museum (Noguchi also acquired works by Qi); and other public and private collections. Before its current presentation—its only East Coast venue—the exhibition was on view at the UMMA. The tour concludes at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle (February 22–May 25, 2014).

Beijing in 1930 provided a pivotal interlude for Noguchi, falling between his apprenticeship with Constantin Brancusi (1876–1947) in the Romanian master’s Paris studio between 1927 and 1929, and before his immersion into the New York art scene in the 1930s. Qi fueled Noguchi’s interest in using brush and ink on paper, guiding him toward a medium that would liberate him from Brancusi’s influence and enable him to develop a new approach to interpreting the human form. Unlike in Paris, he was able to choose his models (men, women, children, and infants) and their poses. He also discovered that he could create almost life-sized works by painting on a table or the floor following East Asian tradition, as opposed to using the easel favored by the Western academic style.

While the experience of studying with Qi Baishi transformed aspects of Noguchi’s practice, it also had an impact on the senior artist. During his stay, Noguchi created a series of more than one hundred ink-and-brush works later called the Peking Scroll Drawings. These occupy an important place in his development as an artist and realization of his own form of abstraction. With a selection of Noguchi’s Peking Scroll Drawings, Qi Baishi’s paintings, and archival materials, the exhibition also provides insight into the importance of China in Noguchi’s artistic formation.

A master seal-maker, Qi created and presented Noguchi with his own seal. This was a highly symbolic gesture because seals serve not just as signifiers of the creator; along with handwritten signatures and inscriptions, they are part of the artist’s persona and integral elements of a painting. The seal, included in the exhibition, demonstrates the master held his student in high esteem.

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