Worldwide icon-chevron-right Europe icon-chevron-right United Kingdom icon-chevron-right England icon-chevron-right London icon-chevron-right Noguchi review

Noguchi review

Art, Sculpture Barbican Centre , Barbican Until Sunday January 9 2022
Recommended
5 out of 5 stars
Isamu Noguchi tests Slide Mantra at "Isamu Noguchi: What is Sculpture?", 1986 Venice Biennale Photograph by Michio Noguchi The Noguchi Museum Archives, 144398 ©INFGM / ARS - DACS
Isamu Noguchi tests Slide Mantra at "Isamu Noguchi: What is Sculpture?", 1986 Venice Biennale Photograph by Michio Noguchi The Noguchi Museum Archives, 144398 ©INFGM / ARS - DACS

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) is a victim of his own success. The pivotal modernist sculptor and designer’s experiments with material and light were groundbreaking, and totally shaped how our world looks. 

That’s an amazing, impressive feat. But his influence also means that walking into this beautiful retrospective feels a hell of a lot like walking into the world’s fanciest Ikea. 

Noguchi was an international modernist, caught between cultures. His American nationality clashed and melded with his Japanese heritage and a lifetime of travel. His art sits between the pure abstraction of Brancusi, the traditions of Japan and the radical political upheaval of his lifetime.

So you get smooth lumps of curving stone alongside rough wooden pillars, an obsession with the space race alongside a passion for the body, the grief of war alongside countless utopian ideals. He put lights inside stone sculptures for a cave-dwelling post-nuclear future, he designed impossible cars and everyday radios. There are towering interlocking balsa wood columns opposite the immovable curve of a granite memorial to the victims of Hiroshima, bodily blobs of pink stone opposite unbelievably fragile twig-like constructions.

He was constantly balancing light and dark, ancient and modern, earthly and astral, rough and smooth. It’s beautiful sculpture, it really is. 

And then there are the Akari lamps, dotted throughout the space. Noguchi was the guy who put lightbulbs in Japanese paper lanterns, hanging them from ceilings and placing them on metal legs. In the process he created beautiful, useful sculptures that anyone could own - and that everyone does own. They’re everywhere, in every student flatshare, in every Airbnb, in every house. 

At first, it’s hard to get over the Ikea-fication of the work. We’re so used to the soft yellow light of mass-produced paper lampshades that it’s tricky to divorce Noguchi’s sculptures from their contemporary context. 

But then I realised that this is what happens when culture is properly influential, when art seeps into the mainstream. The main reason I didn’t like it is because I was being a snob.

Noguchi created beautiful sculptures, and he did it so well that he changed the world. Just don't hold Ikea against him. 

Details

Venue name: Barbican Centre
Venue website: www.barbican.org.uk
Venue phone: 020-76388891
Address: Beech Street
Barbican
London
EC2Y 8AE
Transport: Tube: Barbican; Rail/Tube: Moorgate

Dates And Times

You may also like