New York

Isamu Noguchi

Max Protetch

Isamu Noguchi’s customary concern with the slow burn of revelation turns, for now, into the strobe of edge flashing into plane. The new sculpture, all done in 1982–83, is best described as origami in steel, and one imagines the brooding gravity of Noguchi’s stones having eventually collapsed under their own heft and somehow come out the other side into a weightless, bright fourth dimension (which can only be defined as some confabulation between the second and third). Density has compacted into a cartoon; in fact, some of these pieces, particularly ones like Giacometti’s Shadow and Root and Stem, are oddly reminiscent of poor, attenuated Coyote, but a coyote finally caught up with Roadrunner when, this time, they get flattened together. In a sense, Noguchi tries to catch up with his alter ego here. If there’s a hidden metaphor at work it’s that the formal doubling process is likened simultaneously to the poetic device of the doppelgänger and the critical device of parody.

Basically deriving from the cut-and-fold-out of the single sheet, the works express independent attachment, a compromise with separation anxiety. We see a plane boldly strike out on its own at the same time that we see, or are induced to imagine, the void it leaves behind in the mother plane, to which it is more than still linked, of which it is an inseparable part. It’s as if a single plane could turn a corner and still be itself. Much like the hovering images of periscopes in Zazen and Folding In and Out, the object attempts to glimpse itself obliquely and all around. The persistent fascination with folding exercises that Edward Kallop traces through Leonardo’s Codex Atlanticus and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s Bauhaus assignments must have something to do with the allure of this paradox of looking at oneself from behind (or above, or below)—thus Noguchi’s attention to shadows, in fact (Sky Mirror) and in title, and the unmistakable look these works have of being cutout representations of his rock sculptures. As happens when viewing through multiple, angled mirrors, things get oddly flattened out. Not only Noguchi’s trademarks but all these images read like stage scenery (flats). In fact, in their relationships with each other they create a cast which in turn achieves a sense of conviviality, making the criticism here more humorous than sharp. Myth and art are deflated, but wittily: from the front we see a substantial Goddess who from a different vantage point disappears into thin air (mere line), and René Magritte’s levitating stone is brought down to earth where it remains light only because the “trick” is revealed.

Everything is a prop. Again, form serves conceptual function when Noguchi uses Naum Gabo’s Constructivism to show no infrastructure, no ribbing; only buttresses, that is, external supports. As opposed to his definition of nature in his boulders as “sap rising,” these works may be his definition of culture. In straining to see oneself one is forever chasing glimpses of fleeting surfaces.

Jeanne Silverthorne