The studio of mid-century sculptor Isamu Noguchi, located just 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 New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA). Noguchi lived and worked in the space between 1961 and his death in 1988, and utilized the space to model and store sculptures and other artistic projects.
Alongside the preservation of Noguchi’s living spaces and their preparation for public viewing, the grant funding will also support the construction of a new cafe and shop for visitors, plus a new building for the “storage and study of [the museum’s] collection and archive.”
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Noguchi moved to the 3,200-square-foot warehouse in Queens after a long stint in Greenwich Village at 33 MacDougal Alley, eager for more physical space and privacy.
“We are excited that this important historic property will be stabilized and preserved, and that it will be opened 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 kept in place; elements from his collaboration with Japanese carpenter Yukio Madokoro will also be on display. The museum hopes to schedule regular tours to share information about how Noguchi lived in that space. The public opening of the studio will provide guests with an even fuller portrait of him as an artist and historical figure, as presented by the museum which “owns the largest and most comprehensive collection of Noguchi’s work in the world.”
Art historian Hayden Herrera described details of Noguchi’s living quarters in her 2015 biography of the sculptor, Listening to Stone: The Art and Life of Isamu Noguchi.
“Downstairs there was a living room and kitchen with Noguchi-designed tables and a simple foam rubber sofa with bolsters. In the bathroom he installed a traditional Japanese wooden tub,” she wrote. Herrera continued: “A flight of stairs led to a bedroom that Noguchi arranged in Japanese style with shoji screens (fitted with fiberglass instead of paper) and a low bed. At the foot of the stairs was a tsukubai, or stone basin, for washing, and, level with the floor, a flat stone carved to look like the sole of a foot. This was the designated spot where guests took off their shoes and put on Japanese sandals before mounting the stairs.” Noguchi apparently characterized the space as “not exactly a home” but rather “a workshop with [a] living quarter.”
Noguchi’s career was marked by a commitment to modernist abstraction and an attention to form, incorporating materials, techniques, and styles from a variety of artistic traditions that included Japanese pottery, Chinese calligraphy, and Italian stonemasonry. Over the course of his life, he designed many public monuments that lined parks, gardens, and plazas; advocated against the detention of Japanese Americans in incarceration camps during World War II; designed furniture for the consumer market; and collaborated with multidisciplinary artists like choreographers Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham, composer John Cage, and architect Louis Kahn.
By 1974, Noguchi also purchased an abandoned factory building and vacant lot across the street, and over the following decade transformed these derelict spaces into an oasis for the display of his life’s work. In 1980, Noguchi renamed his Akari Foundation to the Isamu Noguchi Foundation in anticipation of the Museum’s creation. The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum officially opened to the public on May 11, 1985.
Seasonal until 1999, significant renovations of the main building were completed in 2004 and the Museum has been open to the public year-round since. In 2004, the private Isamu Noguchi Foundation and The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum, which it operated, were consolidated 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 nuts and bolts of the preservation project include replacing the roof and windows of the warehouse, refurbishing its brick facade, and reinstalling Noguchi’s original furniture. The Noguchi Museum has owned the artist’s studio, as well as properties nearby, since his death. But until 2016, the museum’s priority was to stabilize the main building where the museum is housed, a costly project that unfolded in several phases over a decade-and-a-half span of time. The facility that is meant to store Noguchi’s complete archive remains in its design phase.