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Public Works

I could never believe that the experience of sculpture had to be restricted to vision only. The making and ownership of art could also be beyond personal possession—a common and free experience.

Isamu Noguchi

In parallel with his first commissioned public works, History Mexico at Mercado Abelardo Rodriguez in Mexico City (1935–36) and News (Associated Press Building Plaque) in New York City (1938–40), Noguchi had begun to envision an expanded definition of sculpture more directly related to the lived experience. Over the next five decades Noguchi’s playgrounds, fountains, gardens, private courtyards, and civic spaces would inhabit the conceptual umbrella of “the sculpture of spaces.” A visual mapping of his extant public projects (with nearly as many unrealized proposals besides) is a testament to his willingness to work with collaborators across the globe.

By Matthew Kirsch

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666 Fifth Avenue Lobby Ceiling and Waterfall

666 Fifth Avenue Lobby Ceiling and Waterfall

1956–58
666 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY
Open to Public
Located on a long wall between two halls of elevator banks, the central element of Noguchi’s design for the lobby of 666 Fifth Avenue used a screen of silhouetted, stainless steel verticals to emulate the torrents of a waterfall, behind which water trickles to buffer street noise from Fifth Avenue. To complete this lobby environment, Noguchi echoed the profiles of the waterfall elements on the ceiling using aluminum louvers painted white.
Isamu Noguchi, Slide Mantra, 1986, in Bayfront Park, Miami

Bayfront Park

c. 1980–96
301 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, FL
Open to Public
To revive a 28-acre park adjacent to downtown Miami along Biscayne Bay, Noguchi first appealed to the local government to have a waterfront library removed to open up sightlines. As the park is primarily green space populated with old-growth palm trees, Noguchi made use of arcing pathways and sculptural features as a means of organizing an ambulatory space. Features include an open-air amphitheater on the north side of the park; another of Noguchi’s programmed fountains, the Claude Pepper Fountain; a cylinder tower with light displays; and, after the 1986 Challenger tragedy, the Challenger Memorial, a towering abstraction emulating flight and composed by struts in tetrahedron forms. Noguchi passed away during the park’s construction but his long-time collaborator Shoji Sadao oversaw his plans and made adjustments to the plan as the surrounding skyline expanded. Sadao also oversaw the installation of Noguchi’s white marble Slide Mantra, a centerpiece of Noguchi’s 1986 Venice Biennale installation.
An aerial view of the Billy Rose Sculpture Garden

Billy Rose Sculpture Garden

1960–65
The Israel Museum, Derech Ruppin 11, Jerusalem, Israel
Admission Required
Longtime New York theater impresario Billy Rose approached Noguchi in 1961 about what would become his largest commission to date in terms of acreage, a sculpture garden for the archaeology and art museum planned to open in Jerusalem in 1965. Noguchi created what was essentially his first earthwork in shaping the hillside of the Neve Shaanan (“place of tranquility”) with five massive retaining walls made of boulders from the site that face west to create “a play between the sky and the horizon.” To this newly tamed slope he added triangular stone wall sections as backdrops for the museum’s sculpture collection, and a massive stone fountain.
Black Slide Mantra in Odori Park

Black Slide Mantra, Odori Park

1988–89
8 Chome Odorinishi, Chuo-ku, Sapporo City, Hokkaido, Japan
Open to Public
A few years after Noguchi’s white marble Slide Mantra was unveiled for his installation at the 1986 Venice Biennale, a second version in black granite was begun by Masatoshi Izumi as a commission for the city of Sapporo’s Odori Park. (It was commissioned just after Noguchi’s plan for a new park on Sapporo’s outskirts, Moerenuma, was approved). The design of this granite Slide Mantra follows another one of Noguchi’s original plaster models, with slightly elongated and more plastic proportions and with the rim enclosing the slide tapering off at the bottom to better reveal the chute. Izumi completed and installed Black Slide Mantra after Noguchi’s death in December 1988, with a street passing through Odori eliminated to join two blocks of the park for its setting.
Black Sun in Volunteer Park

Black Sun

1969
Volunteer Park (near Seatle Art Museum), Seattle, WA
Open to Public
As a thirteen-year-old returning to America for the first time, Noguchi passed through Seattle on his way to a school in Indiana. Almost fifty years later, Noguchi was commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts to create a public sculpture in Seattle. On this occasion, Noguchi set himself to a new challenge—carving in hard stone on a large scale—which would result in finding his long-term assistant, Masatoshi Izumi, and his studio in Mure, Japan. The massive black void in Brazilian granite is positioned as a standing aperture in Volunteer Park, near the Seattle Art Museum (now the Seattle Asian Art Museum).
A person stands below Bolt of Lightning...Memorial to Ben Franklin in Monument Plaza

Bolt of Lightning…Memorial to Ben Franklin

1933–84
Monument Plaza, Base of Benjamin Franklin Bridge, near 6th and Vine Streets, Philadelphia, PA
Open to Public
Almost fifty years after Noguchi devised a handful of models as a conceptual tribute to scientific optimist and founding father Benjamin Franklin, he was commissioned by the city of Philadelphia to revisit the idea for a highly visible site at the foot of a bridge dedicated to Franklin. Noguchi’s design conflates the kite, lightning bolt, and key from Franklin’s personal iconography into a freestanding structure.
An aerial photo of California Scenario

California Scenario

1980–82
611 Anton Boulevard, Costa Mesa, CA
Open to Public
In 1979, real estate developer Henry T. Segerstrom appealed to Noguchi to devise a plan for a cultural site for his Sun Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, California, some 40 miles south of Noguchi’s birthplace, Los Angeles. The resulting plan found Noguchi essentializing the diverse ecosystems found within California through sculptural elements and plantings to create the evocative landscape compositions The Desert Land and Forest Walk. At the same time, he commented on the complicated ecological issues raised in making some of these areas habitable for larger populations: Water Source and Water Use were placed at opposite ends of a circuitous abstract stream, while Land Use and Energy Fountain were arrayed on opposite sides of the plaza’s expanse. A late addition to the composition, a mound of fitted granite stones, Spirit of the Lima Bean, alluded to the area’s (and the Segerstrom family’s) agricultural origins.
The lobby of the Magic Chef Building, featuring a view of the ceiling

Ceiling for Magic Chef Building (American Stove Company Ceiling)

1948
1641 S Kingshighway Boulevard, Saint Louis, MO
Open to Public
Working with the St. Louis–based architect Wallace Armstrong, Noguchi devised interior accents for the headquarters of the American Stove Company. Extending his interest in lit sculptural interiors he termed “lunars,” Noguchi created a series of exposed cavities within the ceiling above, with interior lighting and other sculptural accents. After the building was purchased by U-Haul, a drop ceiling was added, concealing parts of the design for several decades. The majority of the ceiling was restored and repainted in 2016.
A view of Constellation (for Louis Kahn) located in an outdoor barrel vault at the Kimbell Art Museum

Constellation (for Louis Kahn)

1982
3333 Camp Bowie Boulevard, Fort Worth, TX
Open to Public
After a visit to a wing of the Kimbell Art Museum designed by his deceased friend, the architect Louis Kahn, Noguchi offered to put one of the unused peripheral spaces to use. He created an arrangement of four minimally worked basalts—a column, an altar, and two wellhead-like stones—for placement in front of the barrel vaults of Kahn’s gallery in an intimation of the two men’s shared affinity for the archaic.
Three of Noguchi's sculptural forms spray water in a reflecting pool

Expo ’70 Fountains

1970
10-10 Senri Banpakukoen, Suita City, Osaka Prefecture, Japan
Admission Required
After his first proposal for a U. S. Pavilion was rejected by its representatives, Noguchi was offered a large reflecting pool to work with by Kenzo Tange, the supervising architect of Expo ’70. Given a longtime interest in and study of fountains and other water features, Noguchi eagerly accepted, working with collaborator Shoji Sadao and a recently formed Japanese fountain makers’ association to conceptualize a program of nine automated fountains. Within the futuristic context of Expo '70, Noguchi and Sadao sought to contemporize notions of what a fountain could be, borrowing emphasis from its architectural form and directing it to a full range of elaborate spray and mist patterns.
A bisected column and splayed pylon stand in a reflecting pool at the Art Institute of Chicago

Fountains, Celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the Founding of the Republic

1976–77
Art Institute of Chicago, 111 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL
Open to Public
Commissioned on the occasion of the nation’s Bicentennial by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill for its new east building at the Art Institute of Chicago, Noguchi’s sculptural fountain was set in a reflecting pool. Noguchi sourced “rainbow” granite from Minnesota for each of the fountain’s massive elements—a horizontal, bisected column floating above the surface of the pool (with the aid of stainless steel), and a splayed pylon over which water was recirculated to glaze each surface. Noguchi likened the effect of the inner mechanics of the fountain to a tree: “Water rises in the tall column and flows down its front, as water rises in trees and returns to earth again from the sky.” (“Forms in Space I: Experiencing Sculpture in the Loop,” The Junior Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, 1976.) The fountain has since been deactivated and the reflecting pool drained.
A garden inside a courtyard at the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company

Gardens for Connecticut General Life Insurance Company

1956–57
Wilde Building, 900 Cottage Grove Road, Bloomfield, CT
Private/No Access
For a corporate headquarters built by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill for Connecticut General Life Insurance Company (now CIGNA), Noguchi handled the design of a series of six pocket courtyards, a large patio space, and a sculptural ensemble. He used the Japanese garden as an aesthetic point of departure for the program of courtyards, interspersing patches of gravel, greenery, and pools with sculptural accents. Meanwhile the sculptural ensemble, Family, was repositioned by Noguchi and architect Gordon Bunshaft from the entrance to the campus grounds to provide a distant focal point to be seen from the offices.
A garden inside a courtyard at the IBM Headquarters, featuring a bronze double helix form, a concave fountain, and a dome-like form inscribed with computational formulas and equations, as well as abstract elements alluding to a sundial and a pyramid

Gardens for IBM Headquarters

1964
1 North Castle Drive, Armonk, NY
Private/No Access
The Skidmore, Owings & Merrill design for the corporate headquarters of IBM left two long interior courtyards to be viewed from adjacent offices. Noguchi’s programmatic scheme for these spaces offered two interpretations of the Japanese garden: one represented the past and featured natural stones and a small lawn bisected by an angled path; a second garden spoke to humankind’s progress in engineering and included a bronze double helix form, a concave fountain, and a dome-like form inscribed with computational formulas and equations, as well as abstract elements alluding to a sundial and a pyramid.
A view of Gate from the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, with the city in the background

Gate

1969
National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, 3-1 Kitanomarukoen, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Open to Public
A resourceful response to architect Yoshiro Taniguchi’s appeal to his friend Noguchi for a large-scale outdoor sculpture for the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, despite having no budget, this work was made from excess box girders that had been used in construction in the lead up to the 1964 Olympics. Gate is a reimagining of traditional thresholds common to Shinto and Buddhist temple settings. Its paint scheme has changed over the years—vermilion first, later vermilion and black, then blue, then yellow and black—based on the range of color combinations Noguchi preferred.
A detail of Heaven (Tengoku) at the Sogetsu Flower Arranging School

Heaven (Tengoku), Sogetsu Flower Arranging School

1977–78
The Sogetsu Kaikan, 7-2-21, Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Open to Public
For his friends Sofu and Hiroshi Teshigahara, father and son and the artistic directors of the Sogetsu Flower Arranging School, Noguchi collaborated with architect Kenzo Tange on the interior space of the institution’s new arts center. Noguchi created a veritable mountain of stone in a space created by a submerged auditorium below. The multitiered composition is linked by water elements that flow between levels, and serves as a setting for exhibitions of the students’ ikebana and visual art.
A partial view of Noguchi's sculptural frieze in a room of the Abelardo L. Rodríguez Market

History Mexico

1936
Abelardo L. Rodríguez Market, Cjon. Girón, Centro Histórico de la Cdad. de México, Centro, Mexico City, Mexico
Open to Public
Noguchi spent nearly eight months working on his first public commission, a sculptural frieze composed of cement with added pigment on a 72-foot-wide wall at the Abelardo L. Rodríguez Market in Mexico City. A mix of figuration and abstraction communicated the tensions of the political moment: the fate of the worker amid rapid industrialization, the rise of fascism and oppression across the globe, and the faint hope offered by scientific progress (here given special topicality by the inclusion of Einstein’s theory of relativity, as explained to Noguchi by his friend Buckminster Fuller by telegram).
A large, freestanding wall with a large entry is flanked by sculptures and seating in Noguchi's sculpture garden at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts

Houston Museum of Fine Arts, The Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden

1978–86
Montrose Boulevard at Bissonnet Street, Houston, TX
Open to Public
Over the course of eight years, Noguchi refined and revised his plan for a sculpture garden situated in a one-acre space adjacent to the intersection of the museum’s Glassell School and the Brown Pavilion, designed by Mies van der Rohe. One of the limitations imposed on Noguchi was to create a neutral space to accommodate a variety of sculpture by other artists. Noguchi introduced angled and irregular freestanding walls of varying height to serve as backdrops and dividers.
A view of Intetra, which comprises several tetrahedral forms, in Four Arts Plaza

Intetra, Society of the Four Arts Fountain

1974–76
Four Arts Plaza, Palm Beach, FL
Open to Public
Just a few years after his first experiments with automated fountains at Expo ’70 in Osaka, Noguchi returned to the theme with his fountain Intetra—subtitled “Tetrahedral Internal Mist Fountain” on one of its technical drawings—in a clear nod to Buckminster Fuller. Given as a gift to the Society of the Four Arts after the design placed second in the Society’s 1975 competition, the fountain was installed within a palm-lined mall at Four Arts Plaza. The fountain’s mechanisms were plagued with difficulties from the start, and it was deactivated in the 1970s.
An aerial view of the Japanese-American Cultural and Community Center Plaza, featuring two granite elements on a fanned, central riser

Japanese-American Cultural and Community Center Plaza

1980–83
244 San Pedro Street, Los Angeles, CA
Open to Public
As Los Angeles neared its bicentennial in 1981, a Japanese-American community group asked the Los Angeles-born Noguchi in 1979 about contributing to a revitalization project in the Little Tokyo area. Noguchi devised a very open plan for a red brick plaza with ledges and outcroppings for seating along its periphery, as it would be used for public events and performances. Along with a circular fountain feature and planters with vegetation, Noguchi included two granite elements (entitled To the Issei) on a fanned, central riser, which act as a theatrical backdrop to the community’s activities.
Five granite stones stand on a brick plaza adjacent to the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building

Landscape of Time

1975
915 2nd Avenue, Seattle, WA
Open to Public
A General Service Administration commission for the new, 37-story Henry M. Jackson Federal Building in downtown Seattle, Noguchi’s ensemble of five Japanese granite stones, Landscape of Time, was placed in a setting of herringbone-patterned brick. A combination of standing and reclining stones reconciles both the proportions of the bays of the Federal Building entrance and the height of the surrounding buildings with a more human, experiential scale.
Mississippi Fountain, with the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company building in the background

Mississippi Fountain

1961–62
1055 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA
Open to Public
In another undertaking for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, this time for the headquarters of the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, Noguchi produced a 41-ton granite tapering column topped by a balanced crescent capital. Given the building’s New Orleans location, Noguchi developed a fountain format acknowledging its connection to the Mississippi River, with water issuing from the capital and spilling across the stone surface.
Two people play with a soccer ball in front of Play Mountain in Moerenuma Park

Moerenuma Park

1988–2000
1-1 Moerenumakoen, Higashi-ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan
Open to Public
Just before his death in December 1988, Noguchi submitted a project model for a planned site outside of Sapporo, a reclaimed garbage dump. His longtime collaborator, the architect Shoji Sadao, supervised the planning and construction of the site, which amounts to a compendium of five decades of Noguchi’s experiments with play, including a recreation of his first concept, Play Mountain (1933).
Momo Taro sits atop a high, grassy mound, with trees in the background

Momo Taro

1977–78
Storm King Art Center, 1 Museum Road, New Windsor, NY
Admission Required
For its expanding collection of sculpture sited within the surrounding landscape, the Storm King Art Center commissioned a site-specific work from Noguchi. His design was to be installed atop a mound near its main building. Representative of the highly improvisational work with stone at his Mure studio in the 1970s, Noguchi’s nine-piece constellation emerged from a massive boulder that had to be split in two in order to be transported from Shodoshima. In the process of carving a hole into one half, Noguchi and his team of assistants decided that it resembled the peach pit central to the story of the namesake warrior born miraculously from a split peach.
A massive stainless steel relief mural is inlaid in the stone facade of the Associated Press Building, visible from the street

News (Associated Press Building Plaque)

1938–40
50 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY
Open to Public
For his first realized public commission in the United States, Noguchi put the reporting and dissemination of news into near-heroic terms. Working at General Alloys in Boston, he enlarged a plaster original into nine sections of stainless steel (weighing a combined nine tons), which he spent close to a year welding, grinding, and polishing into the final plaque.
An aerial view of Philip A. Hart Plaza featuring the Horace E. Dodge Fountain, with crowds of people visible in the photo

Philip A. Hart Plaza, Detroit

1971–79
1 Hart Plaza, Detroit, MI
Open to Public
Noguchi’s most ambitious effort at the time, the Philip A. Hart Plaza project, began with a commission for a fountain and spanned almost a decade as the artist expanded his scope to create the surrounding plaza along with facilities below surface level. Envisioned as a place for the community to gather, the plaza layout emphasized flexibility to accommodate large groups. Dotting the eight-acre site are various stepped areas for both seating and play; an outdoor amphitheater built into a hollow below-surface grade; and a 120-foot-tall stainless steel, torqued pylon marking one entrance. Its central feature is the Horace E. Dodge Fountain, a horizontal ring of stainless steel suspended by legs above a massive granite pool and animated by the results of Noguchi’s ongoing experiments with programmed spray patterns (as well complex lighting schemes for nighttime). Noguchi referred to the plaza, situated along the Detroit River, as “a horizon for people.” (Isamu Noguchi, The Sculpture of Space, New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1980, 29.)
Piazza, Fiere di Bologna, with two tall buildings in the background

Piazza, Fiere di Bologna

1979
Piazza Renzo Imbeni, Bologna, Italy
Open to Public
Noguchi’s friend, the architect Kenzo Tange, enlisted him to come up with a unifying element for a plaza bounded by office towers in a new complex in Bologna’s Fiere district. Noguchi devised a central focal point, a 52-foot-long granite column, laid horizontally on a truncated pyramid. The length of this “gate” (Noguchi’s term, according to Dore Ashton) reconciled the sweep of the plaza with the scale of the vertical towers. Off-axis to this structure, Noguchi designed a stepped, octagonal arena for public performances.
Playscapes in Piedmont Park, with children playing in and around a large cylindrical form in the foreground

Playscapes, Piedmont Park

1975–76
Piedmont Park at 12th Street NE and Piedmont Avenue NE, Atlanta, GA
Open to Public
Some forty years after Noguchi submitted his first proposal for a space devoted to play, Noguchi was offered his first commission for a playground in the United States, in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park. During the previous decade, Noguchi had created models for his own variations on more traditional play equipment (although the swing dated back to 1940), and this commission from the High Museum gave him the opportunity to put some of them into practice, alongside a dome-like mound for climbing.
Three people stand next to Portal, with Cuyahoga Justice Center in the background

Portal, Cuyahoga Justice Center

1976
1200 Ontario Street, Cleveland, OH
Open to Public
“Made of industrial sewage pipe four feet in diameter. A translation of my carving called Walking Void of 1970, this was a calculation in economy. A gateway to hope or despair.” (Isamu Noguchi, The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1987, 200.)
Red Cube appears to stand on one of its corners in the plaza of 140 Broadway

Red Cube

1968
140 Broadway, New York, NY
Open to Public
What initially seems to be a fairly straightforward design, this commission from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill is a carefully articulated response to both the surrounding towers of the Financial District and open plaza spaces nearby. Noguchi’s elongated rhomboid mass in painted red steel offers its viewer a subliminal tool to harmonize the man-made canyon surroundings.
Three basalt sculptures are situated on a lawn adjacent to the Cleveland Museum of Art

Rock Carvings: Passage of the Seasons

1980–81
11150 East Boulevard, Cleveland, OH
Open to Public
Noguchi’s commission by the Cleveland Museum of Art responds to the lawn near the entrance to the 1970 north building addition by the sculptor’s UNESCO collaborator, Marcel Breuer. The three basalts, a composition of vertically and horizontally oriented stones that comment on features of the surrounding landscape, are minimally worked with a combination of areas of raw texture and high polish that play against the distinctive formal banding of Breuer’s facade. At the time of its installation, the ensemble was bounded by a hedge to the east that bridged the composition of the stones with sky (a convention Noguchi borrowed from Japanese temple gardens), but the hedge has since been replaced by a stand of sycamore trees.
Large carved architectural forms stand in front of First National City Bank’s headquarters

Sculptures for First National City Bank Plaza

1960–61
500 W 7th Street, Fort Worth, TX
Open to Public
This commission to create a landscape in front of First National City Bank’s headquarters along a curving street in Fort Worth led Noguchi to secure stones from a remote site on Mount Tsukuba in Japan. His design matched three monumental, carved architectural forms featuring planters filled with unworked green stones from Shikoku and indigenous plantings. Only the three carved stones remained after the plaza was altered in the 1970s.
Two sculptures front the Bayerische Vereinsbank building

Sculptures, Bayerische Vereinsbank

1970–72
Am Tucherpark 12, 80538 Munich, Germany
Open to Public
Overlooking a man-made river branching from the larger Isar River is a monumental sculptural diptych for the Bayerische Vereinsbank that Noguchi created in collaboration with the building’s architect, Sep Ruf. The smaller sculpture in metal reads as a halved (or sunken) and upturned cube, showing three complete faces. It relates as a unit of the larger sculptural structure, which consists of four granite stones of the same scale stacked into a tripod-like formation. The two sculptures are sited on a granite and basalt grid of unfolding triangles (each proportioned to the cubes), coincidentally the component units of the tetrahedron, the hallmark of the theories of Noguchi’s friend, the visionary architect Buckminster Fuller.
Sky Gate stands on a paved surface surrounded by trees, with a tall building in the background

Sky Gate

1976–77
Honolulu Mayor's Office of Culture and the Arts, 550 South King Street, Honolulu, HI
Open to Public
Constructed of industrial pipe, the 24-foot-high Sky Gate stands in a mall between municipal buildings near Honolulu’s City Hall. One astute visitor, recorded in an April 1977 article in Honolulu’s Star Bulletin Today, noted, “standing under it, looking up, it defines that portion of the sky above you … but you have to experience it, be part of it. It’s entirely different than driving by it in your car. I wonder how many people who have criticized it have stood here?”
The steel Skyviewing Sculpture stands on brick piers in a brick plaza. One of three circular cutouts in the cubic structure faces the camera

Skyviewing Sculpture

1969
Red Square at Western Washington University, 516 High Street, Bellingham, WA
Open to Public
Noguchi credited his visits to astronomical observatories he visited in India as influences for Skyviewing Sculpture, one of a handful of exercises in which he enlisted sculptural form as a shaping device for experience.
A raised view of Sunken Garden from the surrounding plaza

Sunken Garden for Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

1960–64
Yale University, 121 Wall Street, New Haven, CT
Open to Public
A collaboration with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Noguchi’s Sunken Garden at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library was designed for a recessed space in front of the main library building, surrounded by adjacent offices below a university courtyard. Initially conceiving a site model that referenced sand mounds from Japanese temple gardens, Noguchi later modified his plan but maintained the idea of an “integral sculpture”—individual elements that comprise a unified whole, to be viewed from the parapet above or from the offices below. A sun, a cube, and a pyramid rest on a formal paving pattern, all composed of white Imperial Danby marble, creating a dramatic landscape that is purely imaginary.
An aerial view of Sunken Garden. A crowd gathers in the plaza around the railing that surrounds the artwork

Sunken Garden, Chase Manhattan Bank Plaza

1961–64
28 Liberty Street, New York, NY
Open to Public
Tasked with countering a dramatic 60-story skyscraper designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Noguchi designed a circular sunken garden below the surface of the nearly block-long plaza alongside it. Noguchi had seven natural stones (transplanted from the Uji River in Japan) set on a modulated surface of cream-colored granite and interspersed with water elements and (initially) small shrubs. He would later refer to the commission as “my Ryoanji,” an homage to the renowned temple garden in Kyoto, which, similarly, can be viewed only from a distance.
A close-up view of one of the fountains, situated in a gravel courtyard. Other fountains are visible in the background

Supreme Court Building Fountains

1974
4-2 Hayabusacho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Private/No Access
For an interior space that is largely unseen by anyone other than the court’s justices, Noguchi placed a row of six black granite wells that continually stream water onto alternating stone floors and gravel beds. The sonic element of the flowing water is meant to provide judges with a backdrop for reflection.
The ground floor of The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum. Several sculptures are positioned throughout the space, and the garden is partially visible in the background

The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum

1983–85
9-01 33rd Road (at Vernon Boulevard), Long Island City, NY
Admission Required
Arguably Noguchi’s most personal passion project, the museum was created in stages after Noguchi first purchased the former Demgen & Balletto Photo Engraver’s Supply Co. building across from his studio in 1974. In 1979, Noguchi bought and then razed a disused service garage at the corner of Vernon Boulevard and 33rd Road, along with a scrapyard behind it. Collaborating with the architect Shoji Sadao, Noguchi created his only architectural space, an indoor-outdoor sculpture court topped by floating galleries above. The adjoining garden was cleared and covered with trap rock, giving Noguchi an empty space to populate with his sculpture in his last years.
Several sculptures stand in a stone yard, with an eighteenth century merchant’s house visible in the background

The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum Japan

1999
3519 Mure, Mure-cho, Takamatsu City, Kagawa Prefecture, Japan
By Appointment
After establishing a rapport with stonecarver Masatoshi Izumi while working on his sculpture commission Black Sun in 1967, Noguchi returned at Izumi’s invitation to work regularly at the studio on Izumi’s family land at Mure, a village associated for centuries with stonecutting. By the early 1970s Izumi and mutual friends had purchased and reconstructed an eighteenth century merchant’s house for Noguchi’s use during his lengthy stays at Mure (it became known as the “Isamu-ya”). A circular stone wall was built to enclose the stone yard and workshop, while a hillside behind the residence was reconfigured as a terraced garden for Noguchi’s ongoing experimentation with site-specific works. The atelier opened to the public as the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum in 1999.
A concrete sculpture of a woman lying on her side while writing a letter is positioned above a wood-framed doorway

The Letter

1939
U. S. Post Office, 701 Station Avenue, Haddon Heights, NJ
Open to Public
For a public work commissioned by the Treasury Department’s Procurement Division in 1938, Noguchi created a plaque in the form of a woman lying on her side while writing a letter. The design was cast in synthetic concrete and installed above the entrance to the office of the postmaster. Years later, Noguchi discovered the piece had been painted white.
A burial mound and a stylized pyramid emerge from the landscape abutting a roadway

Time and Space, Takamatsu Airport Memorial

1988–91
Takamatsu Airport, Yusa, Konan-cho, Takamatsu City, Kagawa Prefecture, Japan
Open to Public
A work that Noguchi conceived as a plaster study model just before his death, Time and Space was intended for the regional airport of Kagawa Prefecture’s capital, Takamatsu City, close to Noguchi’s studio in Mure. It was completed by Noguchi’s longtime assistant and friend, master stonecarver Masatoshi Izumi, who put his considerable knowledge of stone wall-building into the final form, which was similar in construction to walls at Noguchi’s studio. More than the merging of elemental architectural forms—it comprises a burial mound and a stylized pyramid—Izumi characterized the work as incorporating “the entirety of all Kagawa, its climate, stone, and technique.” (Masatoshi Izumi, “Working with the Local Climate in Mind,” in Isamu Noguchi, Human Aspects as a Contemporary: 54 Witnesses in Japan and America, Kagawa: The Shikoku Shimbun, 2002, 114.)
Two abstract finials connect to the railings of a bridge leading to Peace Park

Two Bridges for Peace Park, Hiroshima

1951–52
Peace Boulevard, Hiroshima City, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan
Open to Public
In summer 1950, Noguchi visited the devastated city of Hiroshima with Kenzo Tange, the architect supervising the construction of its commemorative Peace Park. Noguchi was asked to design the railings of two approach bridges to the park, for which he created two different abstract finials in cast concrete, titled Ikiru (To Live) and Shinu (To Die) (later renamed Tsukuru (To Build) and Yuku (To Depart), and scaled in relation to both a human standing at the foot of the bridge as well as to the view of mountains in the distance. Another friend of Noguchi’s, fashion designer Issey Miyake, who grew up in Hiroshima, later described the bridges as the “spiritual support of the people.”
A view the UNESCO Gardens between the porch and the adjacent Building 3

UNESCO Gardens, Paris

1956–58
7 Place de Fontenoy, Paris, France
By Appointment
At the outset, Noguchi was commissioned by the decade-old organization to plan a terrace to be situated outside of the Secretariat building (part of a campus designed by architects Marcel Breuer, Pier Luigi Nervi, and Bernard Zehrfuss) where members and visitors could congregate. Noguchi proposed a grander vision for the unplanned space between the porch and the adjacent Building 3. To complement the delegates’ patio, itself inspired by the communal experience of the Japanese tea ceremony, Noguchi planned something “in the spirit of” a Japanese garden, composed of rock formations (collected at different sites in Japan), ponds, and plantings all linked by a gently sloping path influenced by a feature of kabuki theater. The planning and execution of the garden was a crash course he would draw on for the rest of his career.
Three bicyclists stand in a path next to Unidentified Object, with trees visible in the background

Unidentified Object

1979
1000 Fifth Avenue (at East 82nd Street), New York, NY
Open to Public
Commissioned by the nascent Public Art Fund in 1979, Noguchi’s eleven-foot black basalt menhir was sited at what is now Doris C. Freedman Plaza at Central Park near 59th Street and Fifth Avenue for its initial exhibition through mid-January 1981. Noguchi then offered the sculpture as a gift to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and subsequently it was transplanted to near the museum’s entrance on Fifth Avenue.
A large basalt sculpture stands in a stepped stone garden, with water flowing down the stone

Water Garden for Domon Ken Museum

1984
2-13 Iimoriyama, Sakata City, Yamagata Prefecture, Japan
Admission Required
“Domon Ken, the famous photographer, was a friend of mine. The small city of his birth was building him a museum, and the architect Yoshio Taniguchi, with whose father I had done my earliest work in Japan, asked me to do the interior garden with sculpture. Water flows over the entire area of granite steps and cascades into the lake.” (Isamu Noguchi, The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1987, 188.)
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