Noguchi at the Barbican – all lamps and sculptures


The Barbican is currently hosting an exhibition celebrating Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, often considered one of the most experimental and pioneering artists of the 20th century.

It is also the first traveling exhibition of his work in 20 years, giving people a relatively rare chance to see remarkably familiar works, although you might not realize that they have inspired so many commercial copies. sold in housewares stores around the world.

He was however a high-profile artist, partly torn between the mass production rush of the American contrasting with the craftsmanship of Japan. This comes through clearly in the exhibit, mixing elements that look like clearly singular works of art with others that frankly look like something you can pick up at Ikea.

The Barbican Art Gallery’s choice works for this artist – with the brutal concrete contrasting with the domestic floor lamps and showroom tables and benches.

It might be my uneducated eye, but much of the art here resembles the kind of work created by obnoxious mother Delia Deetz in the movie Beetlejuice. I half-expected that a part would come to life like in the movie and start terrorizing visitors.

Some of the most interesting, in my opinion, were the fusion of the lighting inside the sculpture, especially the one attached to the wall, which made them look more like beautiful household lamps than expensive art. . It is the lighting that also fills the space between the sculptures, suspended from the ceiling and placed on the floor.

But these lamps are not only lighting but are a selection of Noguchi’s most famous work – the Akari lamp.

Based on the traditional lantern from Gifu, Japan, he took inspiration from the design, added a light bulb, and inadvertently created a lampshade that would fill any student dormitory and trendy living room in the years 1960-70, and that we can still find everywhere. today.

Over 150 works are on display in the Barbican Art Gallery, including a range of sculptures – in stone, ceramic, wood and aluminum – as well as theater sets, play models, furniture and lighting.

The exhibit ends up looking oddly familiar, as it largely looks like what you buy in the average home furnishings store. This is not to denigrate the art, it is just that thanks to its popularity at the time of its creation, it was copied by everyone, and has become so generic in so many homes that the exhibit really ends up feeling like walking through the lighting department of a branch of Habitat.

Which is a very strange emotion to leave after visiting an art exhibition.

If you want one of Noguchi’s Akari light sculptures, they are sold at the Barbican, with prices starting at £ 500, or you can get the equivalent for 5 euros at Ikea.

The Noguchi exhibition is open until January 9 at the Barbican. Entrance costs £ 18 and tickets must be pre-booked from here.


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