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Thread: The Renovated Noguchi Museum

  1. #1

    Default The Renovated Noguchi Museum

    June 8, 2004

    The Renovated Noguchi Museum Is Friendlier but Still Discreet


    Jenny Dixon, director of the Noguchi Museum in Queens, inside the renovated space.

    Choosing to hang a banner outside the Noguchi Museum was a big decision for its director, Jenny Dixon. Since the museum opened in 1985, only a discreet plaque by the entrance to its home — a pair of brick buildings on a quiet street in Long Island City, Queens — has alerted visitors to its presence.

    Were it not for the workers' putting finishing touches on the museum and garden last week for the reopening on Saturday, it would have been hard to tell that the institution had undergone a two-and-a-half-year $13.5 million renovation. The floors are distressed concrete; the original wood ceilings are intact; and the tranquil sculpture garden is shaded by a mature Katsura tree.

    "We want people to know where we are, but we don't want to change the experience," Ms. Dixon said. "We've tried to keep the intimate feel of the place."

    The museum's spirit is a reflection of Isamu Noguchi (1904-88), the Japanese-American sculptor who melded Modernism with Japanese aesthetics. Although he is perhaps best known for what he called his Akari light sculptures (hanging lamps), his work encompassed many disciplines: he designed sets for the choreographers Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and George Balanchine; he created public sculptures, sculpture parks and sculpture gardens both here and abroad; and he designed furniture for Knoll and the Herman Miller Company.

    While Noguchi was one of Long Island City's art pioneers, establishing a studio there in 1961, his museum is now part of what has become a neighborhood of cultural institutions. It includes the Museum for African Art, P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, the Sculpture Center and Socrates Sculpture Park. Until late September it also competes for visitors with MoMA QNS, the Museum of Modern Art's temporary space.

    Noguchi once wrote that he believed a museum was "a repository against time."

    The ravages of time, however, are what necessitated the renovation and the museum's temporary closing on Oct. 31, 2001. Originally a complex of two separate buildings and a sculpture garden, the museum had no heating, no air conditioning and no usable basement. As a result it was open only from April through October. Nor did it have education facilities or space for temporary exhibitions.

    The museum's two parts — a former photo-engraving plant built in 1928 and a an adjacent small 1980's building — had been flooded by the East River. The lack of ventilation had turned the rooms musty and damp. Over the years the buildings had settled unevenly, putting stress on the brick walls. The facades also needed repair, as did the steel windows and the leaking roofs. The city gave $3 million toward the project, and the Noguchi Foundation, established in 1971, paid for the rest. (Helen M. Marshall, the Queens borough president, committed another $1.3 million toward a future renovation of the museum's entrance pavilion.)

    The two buildings have been joined and will be open year round, thanks to the installation of heating and air conditioning. The 27,000-square-foot museum also has new temporary-exhibition galleries, educational facilities, a new stairway linking the first and second floors, an elevator and wheelchair accessibility. Improved storage makes it possible to preserve the museum's 2,383-piece collection and archives safely.

    When visitors enter now, they can choose to go into the galleries, where all of Noguchi's abstract sculptures are where he had originally placed them, or into the sculpture garden. In keeping with Japanese tradition, the museum has no coat room, the signs are discreet, and no guards hover about, a plan that allows viewers to have an intimate relationship with the art. "You can't do that in other places," Ms. Dixon said. "We've kept things very simple. We want people to feel that it is unfinished." The Manhattan architects Sage & Coombe conceived and executed the design.

    Born in Los Angeles to an American mother, Leonie Gilmour, a writer, and a Japanese father, the poet Yonejiro Noguchi, Noguchi lived in Japan until he was 13, when he was sent to school in Indiana. He went to New York in 1922 to be a pre-med student at Columbia, taking sculpture classes at night. In 1924 he dropped out of college and became a full-time artist.

    In 1927 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to visit the Far East and Paris, where he spent six months working as studio assistant to the Modernist sculptor Brancusi and shortly thereafter produced his first stone carving.

    During the 1960's Noguchi lived in a small brick building across the street from what became his museum. Although his former home is currently used for museum offices, the original design is still intact, with movable Soji screens, skylights, a soaking tub, a loftlike sleeping space and Akari lamps hanging from the ceiling.

    "It's here, and it exists as his atelier," Ms. Dixon said. "We have lots of ideas for it. We could restore it, make it a visitor's center or restaurant and cafe." But those are dreams for the future.

    Another part of the renovation involved relocating and expanding the museum's current design shop and its cafe, whose tin roof has been painstakingly restored. The shop offers a wide range of products, from Noguchi's Akari lamps and furniture designs to other designers' mid-century furniture and design objects like teacups and tools for stone carving. Proceeds from the shop go to the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, as the institution is formally called. Now the museum is showing its first temporary exhibition, "Isamu Noguchi: Sculptural Design," organized by the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, and designed by the American artist Robert Wilson. On view through Oct. 4, it is the first of a continuing program of special shows. The museum also plans to organize traveling exhibitions.

    Ms. Dixon said the closing of MoMA QNS would have little impact on the Noguchi Museum. "We were here long before MoMA," she said. "We're different. I don't mean any disrespect, but think of us as a boutique and MoMA as a high-end department store. People come here for a different experience."

    Ms. Dixon stressed the museum's need to stay small. It will probably attract only about 500,000 visitors a year (nearly twice its former attendance), she said, but that is more than enough for her.

    "We want to refine, deepen and preserve the spirit of Noguchi, to give his work the diligence it deserves," Ms. Dixon said. "And that is not a blockbuster experience."

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  2. #2


    June 11, 2004


    A Refuge for Repose Refreshed


    A sculpture in the garden "The Ilusion of the Fifth Stone" (1970).

    The Noguchi Museum has been a beloved secret among New York art lovers since the sculptor Isamu Noguchi founded it in 1985. Housed in a two-story, triangular brick factory building in the northwestern reaches of Long Island City, Queens, it does not get a lot of traffic. Those who have taken the trouble to go there have found a miraculous aesthetic oasis in the midst of a gritty industrial area.

    Reopening tomorrow after two and a half years of renovations, the museum is more than just a neutral shell for exhibiting Noguchi's Modernist, mostly abstract sculpture. Before it became a museum, it was part of the artist's home base in New York. (A relentless world traveler, he also had a home and studio in Japan, which is now also a museum.) He opened a studio and living quarters across the street in 1961, acquired the former photo-engraving plant the museum now occupies in 1974, and began designing and developing the museum in 1981.

    A warren of cool, quiet and well-proportioned rooms present examples from a permanent collection of 260 sculptures, but like Donald Judd's compound in Marfa, Tex., the museum is best understood as a world unto itself, a microcosmic utopia in which sculpture, designed objects, architecture and landscape make up an integrated and beautifully orchestrated whole.

    As a work of art and design in its own right, the museum reflects tensions that animate almost everything Noguchi (1904-1988) did. The child of a broken marriage between an American, Bryn Mawr-educated mother and a father who was a celebrated poet in Japan (and who rejected his son for being less than purely Japanese), Noguchi strove throughout his life to bring together the global opposites of European Modernism and Japanese traditionalism.

    That effort is most evident in his creation of a Japanese garden punctuated by ornamental trees and stone sculptures in a courtyard enclosed by the brick walls of an American factory built in the 1920's. In many individual sculptures, relations between opposites — rough and smooth, the geometric and the organic, the natural and the surreal, abstraction and metaphor, and other polarities — are harmonized in ways that seem to have as much to do with ancient Japanese craft and Zen Buddhist wisdom as with 20th-century Modernism. And the silent rooms in which the sculptures are shown feel like sacred spaces as much as minimalist modern art galleries.

    As a sculptor, Noguchi could be tricky. He would honor the native qualities of particular kinds of stone, wood or metal, but he liked to transform his materials in surprising ways, too; making marble seem soft and pliable was a favorite device.

    With tomorrow's re-opening (to be jointly celebrated with special events at other members of the Long Island City Cultural Alliance, including MoMA QNS, the Museum of African Art, P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center and Socrates Sculpture Park), a major new dimension to the institution will also be unveiled. Extensive galleries on the second floor will now be given over to temporary, thematic exhibitions related to Noguchi's work.

    His sets and props for productions by the dancer and choreographer Martha Graham will be the subject of an exhibition scheduled for November. And that will be followed by "The Imagery of Chess Revisited," a restaging of a 1944 show at the Julian Levy Gallery to which Noguchi contributed a surrealistically curvy chess table and a set of game pieces.

    The first of these temporary shows, on view through Oct. 4, is "Isamu Noguchi: Sculptural Design," organized by the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany. For the exhibition, which has previously traveled around Europe, the Vitra hired the theater designer Robert Wilson to create an ensemble that would represent all facets of Noguchi's enterprise: not only sculpture but also stage props, furniture, paper lamps and models for public parks and monuments.

    Noguchi was one of the 20th century's most versatile artists, and to bring the full range of his activities into view simultaneously could be revelatory. What Mr. Wilson has done, however, is a disaster. He has incorporated about 100 works by Noguchi into a series of distracting theatrical environments — including sound and disorienting lighting — that have far more to do with his own proclivities for Pop-surrealist theater than with Noguchi's exquisitely refined sensibility.

    Progressing through the four major spaces of the show, you first encounter a blindingly dark, melodramatic room in which props created for Graham are starkly spotlighted and Modernist music plays. Objects include a bulbous lyre of painted wood that looks as if it was carved from marble and an abstracted, long-legged equine (or maybe bovine) creature casting scary, expressionistic shadows.

    The mood brightens abruptly in the next room, where pieces of biomorphic furniture and more than a dozen paper lanterns are displayed as if in a department store. Sounds of cocktail party chit-chat and clinking glasses fill the gallery, alluding to the suave urbanity of Noguchi's utilitarian designs. Here, for unfathomable reasons, Mr. Wilson has added the rustic notes of a conical haystack from which the ambient sounds emanate and a wall of hay bales framing a photograph of an outdoor park designed by Noguchi.

    The next gallery has been turned into a Japanese rock garden with a gravel floor and a path of concrete squares meandering past sculptures mostly knee-high or lower. Low lights and Japanese string and woodwind music create an atmosphere of exotic Eastern mystery, and tightly focused spotlights, some colored, turn sculptures into dreamlike apparitions. You almost expect a holographic Buddhist sage to appear and say oracular things about art and life.

    Finally you come to the gallery of the future, where the floor is covered with squares of polished aluminum and a hodgepodge of sculptures and functional designs exemplify Noguchi's Modernism. There are Picassoid Cubist sculptures standing on a bed of crushed glass; abstracted wooden rocking chairs for Graham's dance to Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring"; folded aluminum tables designed for the Alcoa company; the coffee table with the kidney-shaped glass top that Noguchi considered his most successful functional design; a model for a monumental fountain that looks like a spaceship in a Steven Spielberg movie; and a chrome-plated head portraying the futurist Buckminster Fuller, Noguchi's lifelong friend.

    It is possible to imagine an argument in favor of Mr. Wilson's approach. Noguchi was a holistic artist. He made lovely individual objects, but he also wanted to connect things ordinarily separated: art and design, object and space, inside and outside, stillness and movement, the transcendental and the terrestrial. He wanted to change the ways we habitually experience the world, to help us become more cognitively, imaginatively and spiritually flexible. The same might be said of Mr. Wilson. But in absorbing Noguchi's work into his own cartoonish theater, he obscures and distorts more than he clarifies. Noguchi would surely have been appalled.

    But you can go downstairs and see the sculptor's work displayed as he intended: without clutter and noise and with plenty of breathing room. Here you may ask yourself, perhaps while enjoying the serenity of the courtyard garden, what has Noguchi's legacy been?

    He was indisputably one of the great designers of the 20th century, but how does he stand as a sculptor next to Brancusi (an early mentor), Picasso, Giacometti and David Smith? He was wonderfully resourceful, but do his debonair fusions of East and West and formalism and Surrealism speak to artists today?

    Maybe these are the wrong questions; maybe other terms of comparison are more to the point. Luckily, there is no need to answer them right away. The Noguchi Museum will be there anytime you want to give it some more thought.

    The Noguchi Museum reopens tomorrow at 32-37 Vernon Boulevard, at 33rd Road, Long Island City, Queens, (718) 204-7088. The exhibition "Isamu Noguchi: Sculptural Design" remains on view through Oct. 4.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  3. #3

  4. #4


    Noguchi Museum Reopens in Queens

    June 18, 2004

    On June 12, the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, Queens, reopened after two and a half years of renovation. The museum houses the most wide-ranging collection of Noguchi's work, including sculptures, interior design projects, architectural models, dance sets, and his famed Akari Light Sculptures, as well as his complete archives.

    The 13.5 million dollar renovation by Sage and Coombe Architects allowed for the installation of a permanent collection within the museum, and the organization of circulating exhibits of Noguchi's work. A new space devoted to public programming and educational events enhances the museum’s continuing effort to reach students, teachers, families, and groups with special needs. The architects strove to maintain Noguchi’s aesthetic vision while installing a heating and cooling system throughout the building and bringing the 10 indoor galleries and sculpture garden up to code. In addition, new glazing was installed on the street-façades, a public stairway was created between the first and second floors, the administrative office were renovated, and the museum’s gift shop and café were relocated.

    The first exhibit, "Isamu Noguchi: Sculptural Design" a comprehensive look at Noguchi’s career, containing over 100 multi-disciplinary pieces, is on display through October 3, 2004. For more information, visit .

    Audrey Beaton

  5. #5


    Sinking Noguchi Museum gets $8M

    Friday, March 21st 2008, 4:00 AM

    An $8 million project to further stabilize the Noguchi Museum building in Long Island City is scheduled to get underway Tuesday, museum officials said.

    A first phase of stabilizing the building was done between 2002 and 2004 at a cost of $13.5 million after the structure started to settle unevenly, museum director Jenny Dixon said.

    "This is a very old building, and extremely close to the East River," Dixon said, adding that the amount of work needed to completely stabilize the building was "grossly underestimated" at the time.

    "There is no interest in changing the vision or the facility itself that Noguchi so carefully created. All we are really doing is stabilizing.

    "He is the signature. It is his museum," she said.

    Construction is scheduled to conclude in early September. Until then, the sculpture garden will be completely or partially closed, though the rest of the museum will be open.

    The Noguchi Museum, which has free admission on the first Friday of every month, is the "only museum in the United States founded by an artist and dedicated to that artist's work," Dixon said.

    Founded in 1985 by internationally renowned sculptor Isamu Noguchi, the museum, a former industrial building at 9-01 33rd Road near Vernon Blvd., is home to the world's largest collection of his sculptures, architectural models, stage designs, drawings, furniture and lamps, as well as his complete archives.

    Noguchi died in 1988.

    The museum also offers a range of educational programs and resources for local and international audiences, as well as for schools, cultural organizations and colleges in the New York City region.

    Copyright 2008 The New York Daily News.

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