I read the latest Julian Barnes novel over the weekend, “The Sense of an Ending” in which he talks about how certain memories that seem so one dimensional actually have greater depth upon re-examination. This happened to me over the weekend as I remembered a gift from my mother on my graduation from college. The gift was three books on artists, two of which I remember, one on Louise Nevelson and the other on Isamu Noguchi, both sculptors. Noguchi was almost lost to my memory until I went to his museum this weekend in Queens.
The museum is great and so is a lot of Noguchi’s work. I particularly enjoyed the small number of drawings in one room that were done in Paris in the 1920’s when Noguchi was in his twenties. His sense of line and surface were extraordinarily fine, in my opinion, something that presages the work of his final years, at least as far as I can see. The space is Noguchi’s old studio and it has been cleverly converted into a series of rooms that highlight different eras of Noguchi’s life. It is, for me at least, the first room that you walk into where you see the true power of Noguchi’s art.
The aging process clearly delineates an artist’s work. A chronological display will reveal the growth of both ability and vision of an artist. Some artists just continue to blossom finding new directions and refining their craft. Noguchi certainly did so as his work with stone morphed into a less is more aesthetic. A great deal more in my opinion as huge chunks of stone have small areas of textured surfaces, either polished or chiseled with the remainder left au naturel. The effect is very powerful. It reminds me of the Bob Seger line, “what to leave in, what to leave out.”
One thing I know about myself, however, is that I love surfaces. The attraction of English furniture is certainly in the design, but it is also in the surface. All wood, when treated well, will become something more than what it started out as. Time, not unlike the way in which it affects an artist, mellows timber and gives it a dimension that was theretofore non-existent. Noguchi stopped playing with his surfaces, a lesson that many restorers and antique dealers should learn as well.