Plaster model with tall column element, short bird-like element, and human figure for scale

Composition for Idlewild Airport

February 12, 2020 – May 30, 2021

Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) was profoundly in sync with America’s mid-century obsession with the power of design to shape the modern world. Dual exhibitions Composition for Idlewild Airport and The Sculptor and the Ashtray testify to his interest in making sculpture everywhere out of everything.

In 1956, Noguchi was invited by the architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) to submit a design for a monumental sculpture for the new International Arrivals Building they were designing for New York’s Idlewild Airport, the first large-scale international airport in the world. Four years later, in a 1960 magazine profile of Noguchi written for The Palette, R. Buckminster Fuller seemed to acknowledge the appropriateness of Noguchi working in the context of an airport, stating, “… Isamu has always been inherently at home—everywhere. He has to-and-froed in his great back and front yards whose eastward and westward extensions finally merged in world encirclement … World airlines pilots … hold history’s travel records. But it is safe to say that Isamu Noguchi is history’s most traveled artist.”

Noguchi’s proposed design, a large, sky-gazing column, was not selected, and the commission went to his contemporary and long-time rival Alexander Calder, who proposed a massive mobile.

Composition for Idlewild Airport explores Noguchi’s design with a variety of related models, maquettes, archival photographs and documents. A highlight is the recently restored competition model Noguchi executed in plaster, as well as a derivative column he made in Greek marble, which was exhibited in his 1959 exhibition at Stable Gallery in New York. That piece, which remained in Noguchi’s collection but was broken at some point and left unrepaired in his lifetime, has also recently been conserved. The exhibition also features a copy of a model of the SOM-designed Lever Brothers Building, now known as Lever House, for which Noguchi designed an unrealized courtyard. That project was the seedbed for the idea Noguchi presented for the Idlewild commission and the inspiration for many stand-alone sculptures, including his variations on Constantin Brancusi’s Bird in Space, one of which, Bird B, is also shown. Read more in the Exhibition Brochure.

  • Wurtz Brothers, International Arrivals Building, Idlewild Airport, 1959. Photographic print. Courtesy of Milstein Division, The New York Public Library
  • Isamu Noguchi, Composition for Arrivals Building, Idlewild Airport, 1956. Unrealized model; commissioned by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Painted plaster. Photo: The Noguchi Museum Archives. ©INFGM / ARS
  • Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), International Arrivals Building, Idlewild Airport, with Alexander Calder’s .125, 1958. Courtesy of the Queens Borough Public Library, Long Island Division, Chamber of Commerce of the Borough of Queens Records
  • Soichi Sunami, View of Isamu Noguchi’s Man Aviator (1939) at Noguchi’s 33 MacDougal Alley studio, c. 1944. Photographic print. ©INFGM / ARS
  • Isamu Noguchi, Composition for Arrivals Building, Idlewild Airport, 1956. Photo: Nicholas Knight. ©INFGM / ARS
  • Isamu Noguchi, Element for Composition for Arrivals Building, Idlewild Airport, 1956. Painted plaster, steel. Photo: Kevin Noble. ©INFGM / ARS
  • Isamu Noguchi, Bird Song (element from model for Lever Brothers Building), 1952. Plaster, metal. Photo: Kevin Noble. ©INFGM / ARS
  • Isamu Noguchi, Bird Song (element from model for Lever Brothers Building), 1952; cast 1985. Bronze. Fabricated by Tallix Foundry. Photo: Kevin Noble. ©INFGM / ARS
  • Isamu Noguchi, Sketchbook with sculpture studies, 1960. Pencil on paper. Photo: Kevin Noble. ©INFGM / ARS
  • Isamu Noguchi, Untitled, c. 1956–58. Plaster. Photo: Kevin Noble. ©INFGM / ARS
  • Isamu Noguchi, Untitled, c. 1955–65. Marble. Photo: Kevin Noble. ©INFGM / ARS
  • Isamu Noguchi, Double Bird, 1958. Greek marble. Photo: Kevin Noble. ©INFGM / ARS
  • Isamu Noguchi working on Figure Portion of Composition for Arrivals Building, Idlewild Airport, 1958. Greek marble. ©INFGM / ARS
  • Isamu Noguchi, Figure Portion of Composition for Arrivals Building, Idlewild Airport, 1958. Greek marble. Photograph by Isamu Noguchi. ©INFGM / ARS
  • Isamu Noguchi, Figure Portion of Composition for Arrivals Building, Idlewild Airport, 1958. Greek marble. Photograph by Isamu Noguchi. ©INFGM / ARS
  • Isamu Noguchi, Bird B, 1958. Greek marble. Photo: Nicholas Knight. ©INFGM / ARS
  • Isamu Noguchi, The Family, part of Gardens for Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, 1956–58. Photograph by Ezra Stoller / ESTO. ©INFGM / ARS
  • View of Isamu Noguchi’s Mississippi Fountain (1961–62), John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company headquarters, New Orleans, n.d. Photographic print. ©INFGM / ARS
  • Isamu Noguchi, Model for Challenger Memorial, 1985–87. Steel rods set into plasticine base. Photo: Kevin Noble. ©INFGM / ARS

 

Composition for Idlewild Airport is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council and from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.