Isamu Noguchi was born to an American mother and a Japanese father in California before growing up in Japan followed by Indiana. He went to study pre-medicine at Columbia University and whilst there, took evening sculpture classes with Onorio Ruotolo. He became passionate about sculpture and left university to follow this new career path.
In 1926, Constantin Brancusi’s work had a profound effect on Noguchi and he travelled to Paris through the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship to work in Brancusi’s studio. The minimal forms that Brancusi created pushed Noguchi to make modern and abstract work. Noguchi’s work was first recognised in the USA in 1938 when he was commissioned to create a sculpture for the Rockefeller Centre, New York; the first of many public works. In 1942, Noguchi set up his studio in Greenwich Village, New York.
After the attack on Pearl Harbour during World War II, life became increasingly difficult for Japanese-Americans and Noguchi became politically active at this time to raise awareness of Japanese-American patriotism. Noguchi voluntarily went to live in an internment camp for seven months before travelling to Japan at the end of the war to explore the social issues that had developed there. His findings were echoed in his work, some of which was shown at Fourteen Americans, an exhibition at the MoMA.
As of 1937, Noguchi began to work with several manufacturers to mass-produce his works. These projects included a Bakelite intercom for Zenith Radio Corporation, a table for Herman Miller and designs for Akari Light Sculptures.
Isamu Noguchi continued his affinity with public spaces and social issues throughout his career, opening The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum in 1985 in Long Island City opposite his studio. It is now called The Noguchi Museum and boasts a wonderful collection of his work. Noguchi won many prizes towards the end of his career before passing away in 1988 in New York City.