April 22nd, 2006


A (half) Japanese designer in Queens

The Noguchi Museum in Queens is a really delightful place.

Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) was a Japanese-American designer who spent half his time at his workshop in Queens, the other half in Shikoku, on Japan's Inland Sea. He made organic stone sculpture, gardens, furniture, fountains, funky 70s public monuments, as well as theatre and ballet sets. I mostly went to see his lamps, though, and there are disappointingly few at the museum.

I've been meaning to go to the Noguchi Museum for years, but yesterday was the first day I actually got up the gumption. The garden and the cafe / bookshop were what impressed me most, the garden swaying in sunshine, stirring in the Queens breeze, subtly Japanese, the bookstore full of interesting stuff you could browse while sipping tea (mine came bottled, bought in the Japanese kombini up Astoria Broadway).

In the last few months I've seen two documentaries about Noguchi's life. (The one on show in the museum is amusingly 70s, very loungecore.) One was on French-German network Arte, very crisp, restrained and "designy", with a delicate orientalism; as controlled and dignified as Noguchi's designs, in fact. The other, on Japanese TV, was amazingly tabloidy, with a shouty commentator doing silly voices, lots of text and inset windows on the screen, and flashy, zingy transitions. Here Noguchi was "our man in America", a sort of ambassador for Japanese values, but the Zen spirit of his work was hard to see amidst all the electronic distractions.