A comprehensive biography of a sculptor of stone and space.
Art critic Robert Hughes called Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) “the pre-eminent American sculptor…the chief living heir, not only to his teacher [Constantin] Brancusi, but also to the classical Japanese feeling for material and nature.” In this meticulously researched biography, Herrera (Joan Snyder, 2005, etc.) chronicles the long, productive career of the acclaimed 20th-century modernist. Born to an unconventional American mother and a Japanese father, a famous poet who neglected him, Noguchi spent his early childhood in Japan; at 13, his mother sent him to school in America, alone. “Banished” to another culture, he claimed throughout his life that dual identity made him feel like an outsider. As an artist, he drew on both cultures, and his precocious talent attracted teachers and mentors: Brancusi, for whom he worked in Paris; and Buckminster Fuller, who taught Noguchi about “the new technology of space and structures.” Although Noguchi began his career making busts of celebrities (Thornton Wilder, George Gershwin, Lincoln Kirstein), he soon moved to sculpture, stage sets (he designed for Martha Graham for decades), and public plazas and gardens (for UNESCO, Yale’s Beinecke Library and others), earning a reputation “as a sculptor of space.” Herrera allows colleagues and lovers to characterize Noguchi's personality. “He was elegant and flirtatious,” a close woman friend disclosed. “He was a seducer and a charmer.” He pursued women who were usually decades younger and dazzled by his attentions and his fame; he married one, an actress, but that relationship ended in divorce after a few years. Short-tempered and egotistical, he could be difficult. One colleague said he was “stubborn as a mule” and an astute politician. “Noguchi was a genius in knowing how to use people,” said another.
Although reticent about putting forth her own insights about her subject’s mind and heart, Herrera gives readers an ample, thorough analysis of his estimable art.