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Ashton (Art History/Cooper Union; About Rothko, 1983, etc.) reverentially portrays the sculptor and designer Isamu Noguchi (1904-88). He was a ""mythmaker"" and ""teller of tales,"" Ashton says, a ""spiritual voyager whose natural state is one of exile."" Here, Ashton intricately delineates Noguchi's artistic quest, following the progress of his work and explaining the way he drew inspiration from countless sources--ancient and modern, American and Japanese, including Buckminster Fuller, Constantin Brancusi, and William Blake; Martha Graham's dance, Noh drama, and the temples and gardens of Kyoto. The tensions of a dual heritage were played out in Noguchi's life. His father was an American-educated Japanese poet who left his American wife before the future sculptor was born. Noguchi spent his childhood in Japan, went to boarding school in Indiana, then returned to Japan--only to be rejected by his father, who'd dropped his westernizing for militant nationalism. Figuratively, too, the artist traveled back and forth. Ashton discusses countless Noguchi works--such as the sets for Martha Graham's Frontier (1935), gardens at UNESCO in Paris and at Yale, a plaza in Detroit, and his compound on the island of Shikoku. But she plays variations on her central points so many times that the reader feels too literally ""the elliptical aspect of his life"" rather than the cosmic weight of his achievement. Trying to make up for critical neglect, and skeptical of ""the connection between personal circumstance and art,"" Ashton seems too dazzled to cut through the sculptor's myth-making to the man, described late in the book as ""willful"" and possessing ""demonic drive."" And why does she spend fewer than two pages on Noguchi's brief marriage to controversial Japanese actress Yoshiko Yamaguchi? Illuminating to a point on Noguchi's difficult-to-categorize work, and undoubtedly enriched by 91 b&w and 8 color photographs (some seen.)

Pub Date: April 10th, 1992
ISBN: 0520083407
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Knopf