August 1998
Isamu Noguchi - Theater set element from

Isamu Noguchi
American, 1904-1988
Theater set element from "Judith" (1950)
Collection Walker Art Center
Purchased with the aid of funds from the Art Center Acquisition Fund and the National Endowment for the Arts, 1978

  Isamu Noguchi's clean, pared-down sculpture hovers between abstraction and figuration. Incorporating various styles, materials, and scale, his sculpture evokes both ancient and modern, natural and fantastic, and biomorphic and geometric forms. Initially influenced by classical training and traditional sculptural practice, Noguchi's style was transformed by his association with modernist sculptor Constantin Brancusi. Driven by "the necessity of uniting life and art," Noguchi's prolific career also included art for public spaces and theatrical set design.

Dissolving conventional boundaries between the arts, Noguchi's Theater set element from "Judith" (1950) was a product of his longtime collaboration with choreographer Martha Graham. They worked in tandem to create visionary sets and dances that had an equally strong stage presence. As Graham's dancers moved concisely and authoritatively, Noguchi's mystical environments provided a timeless quality for her symbolic and gestural movements.

Lightweight, detachable, and easily transportable, the theater set element from Judith was initially made from balsa wood but later cast in bronze. This transformation reflects Noguchi's interest in the physical weight of his objects, where something heavy appears to be light and vice versa. By casting the set element in bronze, Noguchi deliberately reiterates that the piece is an original artwork, independent of its enigmatic use in a theatrical environment.

© 1998 Walker Art Center

The Artwork of the Month is part of the Walker Art Center's "New Definitions/New Audiences" initiative. This museum-wide project to engage visitors in a reexamination of 20th-century art is made possible by the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund.