If You're Ever In New York: Noguchi Museum

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Noguchi Museum (Queens): Vernon Blvd and 33rd Rd, Long Island City, NY 11106

 

The Noguchi Museum has one of the most unassuming entrances I've ever seen at a museum.  There is a little sign about the size of a sheet of lined paper on the side of what looks like a cinder block and brick building at the west side of Queens. Inside, the first floor starts out with concrete floored and whitewashed cinder block spaces that have stone sculptures that appear to almost grow from the concrete (see above).  There is an outdoor courtyard with benches and graveled areas that again are riddled with sculptures that jut out from the ground.  The sculptures are clearly tooled and smoothed but are also left with excavation markings.

In one corner of the first floor, there was a film about the life of Japanese American artist, Isamu Noguchi, that was very enlightening.  Shoved in the corner of the movie room were two Noguchi paper lanterns (see right for a beautiful example) -- yes, I hadn't realized he was the one who transformed traditional Japanese paper lanterns into modern sculptures until I saw them in this museum context. While today we take these lanterns as common light fixtures we can buy copies of at discount and import stores like IKEA, when Noguchi designed the first ones, it was revolutionary.


The pieces that spoke most to me were on the mezzanine level.  There were ink drawings of animals (of course they were my favorites--the simple and spare lines amazingly captured gesture and emotion, see left).  Traveling through southeast Asian countries, Noguchi kept a kind of sketch journal, and this museum has a wonderful collection from this period.  His training under master Chi Pai-Shih is apparent in the simplicity and economy of these drawings.


The 2nd floor had more refined and highly finished sculptures, many of which were "interlocking" sculptures.  Noguchi's work at Brancusi's studio is evident in these sculptures, especially in the use of wood and stone pedestals (you can see several Brancusi's at the MOMA and the Guggenheim). 

The entire museum is very zen.  There are no barriers between visitors and the artwork.  It is spacious and what first may appear austere soon can be appreciated for the way the environment shows the art to its best advantage.  When looking at overall "room-scapes" one cannot help but admire how one piece flows and highlights those around it.  See the "Sun at Noon" (1969), "Ding Dong Bat" (1968-69), and "The Mountain" (1964) (which to me looks like a battered but whole heart) at right.

I visited the museum on the first Friday of the month, which are "pay what you wish" days and it was quiet but not lonely (Noguchi Visitor Info).  The museum is easily reachable by subway (N/Q) and about a 10-15 minute leisurely walk.  This is a great way to spend a couple of hours (including travel time) if you find yourself in Queens for an afternoon.

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