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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Isamu Noguchi

イサム ノグチ

What's on in Tokyo and Kyoto


Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo.Yesterday I visited the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo. The Museum is presently showing works of one of the 20th century's paramount sculptors, the Japanese American Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988).

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo itself is only ten years old and is the ideal space for work of such modernist caliber as Noguchi's. His works, rendered mainly in either plate metal or stone, are modern icons in the true sense of the word, not trying to shock or make a statement so much as reflect the world as Noguchi saw it: as something cruel and lonely but at the same time voluptuous and bearing the marks of an ancient endowment of the miraculous and mysterious.

The Museum is located in the middle of a completely unremarkable neighborhood of the generally unremarkable Koto ward of Tokyo. It is, however, a remarkable structure cutting a unique sharp silhouette against the huge pale autumn sky and full of huge spaces with numerous clean empty corners that sit there pregnant and silent, barely conscious of the great projects that concern the center of the rooms.

Noguchi's plate metal sculptures appeal with the clarity of their apparent simplicity, but a cursory circumnavigation reveals dimensions and perspectives that defy complete comprehension - indeed, often threaten to overwhelm. Slightly larger than average human size, they draw the onlooker towards them with their boldness, and maintain their hold with the purity and unexpected sophistication of their sensuous curves and surfaces and angular spaces that are often so sharp as to appear solid.

That sensuousness of line is taken to new heights in Noguchi's stone and sculpted metal (as opposed to plate metal) sculptures. His 17-ton 'Energy Void' is the masterpiece of the exhibition: a massive upright ring over 2 meters tall of simply yet erotically sculpted black granite that is the focus of the the Museum's vastest, plain-cathedral-like room. This loop of polished stone has a sinuous vibrancy that has to be witnessed - to have been with for at least five minutes and conscientiously walked around - to truly comprehend.

His other smaller stone works are similarly powerful. Their smooth weightiness invites you to touch, but the profundity expressed in their form keeps you circling at a respectful distance. The work in particular that epitomised this power was 'Origins', a hug-sized dome of black stone with a chiselled matte surround that gradually aspires to a highly polished apex.

For all their depth, however, the works appeal at the primary level with their simplicity and sense of fun. There is an outside, courtyard display of his works that the kids can clamber all over, as well as a small room in the Museum where they can put together cardboard 3-D jigsaw pieces of his sculptures and create new ones as the spirit moves them.

This is an incredibly popular exhibition and as of yesterday saw its 100,000th visitor. Don't be put off by the lengthy queues: they move fast and you're in and entranced before you know it. Nevertheless, worth a long wait.

Good shop with a great selection of reasonably priced goods.

Isamu Noguchi: From Sculptures to Spatial Design - Omnificent Creativity
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, 10am-6pm (last admission 30 minutes before closing time). Closed Mondays.

Until 27 November, 2005.

Kiyoizumi-shirakawa Station on the Hanzomon Subway Line, exit B2. 10 minute walk. Follow the signs.

Adults 1,300 yen, College and vocational school students 900 yen, junior and senior high school students 500 yen, over-65-year-olds 500 yen, elementary school students and younger, free.

What's on in Tokyo and Kyoto

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