The studio of mid-century sculptor Isamu Noguchi, located directly across from his eponymous museum in Long Island City, New York, will soon be open to the public after a $4.5 million restoration and renovation effort supported by the New York Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA). Noguchi lived and worked in the space between 1961 and his death in 1988, and used the space to model and store sculptures and other art projects.
Along with preserving Noguchi’s living spaces and preparing them for public viewing, the grant will also support the construction of a new cafe and shop for visitors, as well as a new building for “storage and the study of [the museum’s] collections and archives.
Noguchi moved to the 3,200 square foot warehouse in Queens after a long stay in Greenwich Village at 33 MacDougal Alley, craving more physical space and privacy.
“We are delighted that this important historic property is stabilized and preserved, and that it is open to the public for the first time in its history,” Brett Littman, director of the Noguchi Museum, wrote to Hyperallergic. The concrete walls of Noguchi’s studio, in addition to a rigging system, both installed by the artist, will be held in place; elements of his collaboration with Japanese carpenter Yukio Madokoro will also be on display. The museum hopes to organize regular visits to share information about how Noguchi lived in this space. The public opening of the studio will offer guests an even fuller portrait of him as an artist and historical figure, as presented by the museum which “has the largest and most comprehensive collection of the work of Noguchi to the world”.
Art historian Hayden Herrera described details of Noguchi’s living quarters in her 2015 biography of the sculptor, Listen to Stone: The Art and Life of Isamu Noguchi.
“Downstairs was a living room and kitchen with tables designed by Noguchi and a simple foam rubber sofa with bolsters. In the bathroom, he installed a traditional Japanese wooden tub,” she wrote. Herrera continued, “A staircase led to a bedroom which Noguchi furnished in a Japanese style with shoji screens (fitted with fiberglass instead of paper) and a low bed. At the foot of the staircase was a tsukubai, or stone basin, for washing, and, at ground level, a flat stone carved to resemble the sole of a foot.This was the designated place where guests took off their shoes and put on Japanese sandals. before heading up the stairs. Noguchi apparently characterized the space as “not exactly a house” but rather “a workshop with [a] residential area.
Noguchi’s career has been marked by a commitment to modernist abstraction and attention to form, incorporating materials, techniques and styles from a variety of artistic traditions, including Japanese pottery, Chinese calligraphy and stone carving. Italian. During his life he designed many public monuments that lined parks, gardens and squares; advocated against the detention of Japanese Americans in incarceration camps during World War II; furniture designed for the consumer market; and has collaborated with multidisciplinary artists such as choreographers Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham, composer John Cage and architect Louis Kahn.
In 1974, Noguchi also purchased an abandoned factory building and vacant land across the street, and over the next decade transformed these abandoned spaces into an oasis to display his life’s work. . In 1980, Noguchi renamed his Akari Foundation to the Isamu Noguchi Foundation in anticipation of the establishment of the Museum. The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum officially opened to the public on May 11, 1985.
Seasonal until 1999, extensive renovations to the main building were completed in 2004, and the Museum has since been open to the public year-round. In 2004, the private Isamu Noguchi Foundation and the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum, which it operated, were combined into a single entity. Chartered as the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, the Noguchi Museum is a 501(c)(3) public charity and accredited by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM).
Some of the cogs and bolts of the preservation project include replacing the warehouse’s roof and windows, renovating its brick facade, and reinstalling Noguchi’s original furnishings. The Noguchi Museum has owned the artist’s studio, as well as nearby properties, since his death. But until 2016, the museum’s priority was to stabilize the main building where the museum is located, an expensive project that took place in several phases over a period of a decade and a half. The facility to store the complete Noguchi archive remains in its design phase.