4 February – 3 April 2022
White Cube Bermondsey
‘The nature of trees and grass is one thing, but there are many degrees of nature. Concrete can be nature. Interstellar spaces are also nature. There is human nature. In the city, you have to have a new nature. Maybe you have to create that nature.’ – Isamu Noguchi (1970)
White Cube Bermondsey is pleased to present ‘A New Nature’, an exhibition of works by Isamu Noguchi (1904–88) conceived in collaboration with The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum. The exhibition takes its title from a talk Noguchi gave to students at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1970 where he urged them to forge ‘a new nature’ from the materials of urbanisation and technology they encountered around them. Bringing together several bodies of work that reflect the artist’s attempts to make us conscious of his broader understanding of nature, the works on show employ industrial methods and materials, yet appeal to our awareness of what is organic.
In 1955, the architect Robert Carson approached Noguchi about repurposing an unrealised design for a bank lobby in Texas for a new office building across the street from the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. Noguchi agreed to re-conceive what was initially a wall relief as a ceiling sculpture, on the condition that he could also make a waterfall. An undulating, wave-like arrangement of aluminium and stainless steel, together Ceiling and Waterfall, 666 Fifth Avenue (1956–57) transformed what was a severe, modernist space of black and white marble into Noguchi’s favourite thing: an imaginary landscape and buffer from urban noise – a sea of clouds and the sound of falling water.
‘Inherent in Akari are lightness and fragility. They seem to offer a magical unfolding away from the material world.’ Noguchi’s Akari lanterns, or light sculptures, epitomise his efforts to expand the concept, potential and purpose of sculpture. Useful, affordable, easily stored and shipped, their qualities are antithetical to our preconceived notions of sculpture. They encapsulate his interest in iterating upon old traditions, his consideration of heritage and the ways in which these crafts can be pushed into the future as well as an openness to new technologies. Weightless and uplifting, their metaphorical and actual lightness and natural life-giving warmth offer, as he said, ‘a foil to our harsh, mechanized existence’.
Octetra is a modular geometric play system Noguchi developed in the 1960s. Formulated from his friend R. Buckminster Fuller’s theories about the fundamental structures of natural forms – each element is a truncated tetrahedron – they can be endlessly reconfigured. Though the earliest examples, for a playground in Japan (1965–66) and the plaza in front of Spoleto Cathedral in Italy (1968) were made in concrete, the five configurations here are made of Fiberglas, a material Noguchi wanted to use but was not yet available to him.
‘Industrial process has its own secret nature – its own entropy, its own cycle of birth and dissolution… We try hard to subject the industrial process to man’s supervision.’ – Isamu Noguchi (1970)
Late in life, through experimenting with the Japanese crafts of kirigami and origami (Japanese cut and folded paper) and industrial sheet metal manufacture, Noguchi produced a series of twenty-six galvanised steel sculpture editions with Gemini G.E.L. The sculptures represent a virtual retrospective of the artist's wide-ranging visual vocabulary – landscapes, bodies, abstract spatial concepts and natural forces – and offer a bridge between the natural and the manmade. Process-driven, playful, and oriented towards an increasingly urban environment, they are archetypal late works by this great artist.
In 9 x 9 x 9, the installation takes inspiration from Noguchi's environment 'Heaven' in the atrium of Sogetsu Kaikan, Tokyo, and his unrealized ideas for the Riverside Park Playground in New York. Here, an interactive series of terraces developed from one of his models for that unrealized playground sits below a small cloud-form presentation of Akari lights, a transformative space that encourages both physical and perceptual interaction.
One of the most significant artists of the 20th century, Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) was an idealist whose timeless work blended ancient and modern ideas. An itinerant cultural synthesizer, he consistently rejected categorization and the false dichotomies of his time, espoused globalism and anticipated the social practice of art by several decades. Primarily a sculptor, Noguchi’s expansive, interdisciplinary practice included public projects, gardens, playgrounds, furniture, lighting and set design, all informed by an abiding view that nature was of fundamental importance to the human condition and a determination to make work which encouraged this belief.FULL PROFILE