The abstract sculpture of Isamu Noguchi graces public spaces around the world, but the museum he designed to showcase his best works occupies a former photogravure plant in Long Island City, Queens. After the crowds of the Met and MoMA, it was a treat to enter the Noguchi Museum’s quiet spaces. I can think of no better way to spend a few hours on a hot summer day than meandering through the museum’s galleries and garden. The Noguchi Museum was one of my favorite discoveries in a summer of New York City art exploration!
A prolific creator
Noguchi, born in 1904 to a free-spirited Irish-American mother and a Japanese poet, worked in stone, wood, metal and more. Known for his sculpture and public art, Noguchi designed stage sets for Martha Graham dance productions. He also designed mass-produced lamps and furniture pieces, some of them still manufactured today. The artist’s creation of public spaces through sculpture established him as a critical figure in post-war art, architecture and design.
Everything is sculpture. Any material, any idea without hindrance born into space, I consider sculpture.–Isamu Noguchi
The museum presents a documentary film that follows Noguchi’s life and work through most of the 20th century. I found it helpful to view the film before visiting the galleries, as it provides valuable context to the works on display.
An artist’s design
The Noguchi Museum opened in 1985, under the watchful eye of the artist. He directed the layout and display of his sculptures and commercial creations (tables, lamps of paper and wire, even cutlery). Curators have respected his wishes.
It is easy to linger here, to appreciate the texture, color and composition of cuts in the stone of larger works. Some rooms are infused with a play of natural light and shadow, while in others, individual pieces are spot-lit. A gallery housing larger-than-life pieces of worked stone shares real estate with living trees. The effect is contemplative and thought-provoking. Thanks to its soothing ambiance, the Noguchi Museum was recently named one of the of the 17 Beautiful Places in New York City That Are Sure to Delight!
The artist left a large tree of heaven in place during conversion of the building. He then designed the outdoor sculpture garden around it. When the tree was dying several years ago, museum curators decided to take it down. They commissioned benches to be made from the wood and placed them around the garden space. Today, those benches make for an idyllic rest stop. The museum’s small shop sells an array of Noguchi pieces, such as lamps, and a small selection of art and design books.
Inspiration for artists and scholars
The museum is officially part of a foundation occupying two locations. The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum Japan is located in the village of Mure on the island of Shikoku. There, a studio compound where the artist worked half of each year over the last decades of his life houses the museum.
There is plenty of Noguchi art to be found elsewhere in the city, from Red Cube in lower Manhattan to a large basalt piece, Unidentified Object, in Central Park. I’m on the lookout for these and other works in my wanderings here. In the meantime, here are some images from my walk through the museum in Queens.
A virtual tour through the Noguchi Museum
If you go
- The Noguchi Museum is easily reached via public transportation, with multiple options from Grand Central Station in Manhattan.
- On the first Friday of every month, Museum admission is free. Tickets for Free First Friday are released two weeks before each date.
- Accesibility at the Noguchi Museum is a priority for the museum. The museum is wheelchair accessible, and offers guided “touch tours” and other visitor support.
Want to know more about Isamu Noguchi and his impact on contemporary art and design? To view a number of the artist’s works and for up-to-date Noguchi exhibition listings, visit Arty’s Isamu Noguchi page!
Note: The Noguchi Museum—a New York City oasis originally appeared on Anita’s Feast on 8 August 2012, updated 31 August 2023.