At Large  December 16, 2021  Angelica Frey

Noguchi Foundation Collaborates with Objects of Common Interest

Photo: Brian W. Ferry. Artworks © Objects of Common Interest / © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / Artists Rights Society

Objects of Common Interest, Tube Light I and Tube Light II, 2019, installed among Isamu Noguchi’s monumental late-career basalt sculptures in The Noguchi Museum’s indoor-outdoor galleries.

It could feel forced to have the opus of another artist (or a duo, or a workshop) with a specific ethos and aesthetic installed in a museum entirely dedicated to the work of another individual, like a new designer overtaking the creative direction of a heritage brand before fully stepping into their role.

This is certainly not the case of "Hard, Soft, and All Lit Up with Nowhere to Go," a collaborative exhibition between the Noguchi Foundation and the design studio Objects of Common Interest, helmed by Greek-born designers Eleni Petaloti and Leonidas Trampoukis. 

For those unfamiliar with his work, Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) was a Japanese American artist, sculptor, and landscape designer, whose work spanned sculptures, gardens, furniture and lighting designs, ceramics, architecture, and set designs. He designed and created his namesake foundation and garden museum in Queens, NY, an oasis and area of reprieve from the urban surroundings. 

"Simplicity, meaning and abstraction are aspects that define our work as designers and are underlying in every exploration of ours, materialized in various forms, materials and projects," Petaloti told Art & Object about this collaborative exhibition. "The Japanese tea house, with its core, minimum elements, articulation and progression of gestures has been a reference to us in the sense of working with the void space, the in-between, the conceptual connector between parts."

Angelica Frey

Exterior view.

Objects of Common Interest, whose work is rooted in still life installations and experiential environments and objects, with a focus on materiality, concept and tangible spatial experiences, saw Noguchi as a multidisciplinary creator living and working between east and west "who was equally inspired," Petaloti continued, "by all the things around him including nature, the city, culture and travels, creating an amalgamation of ideas and blending them into his personal work."

The work by Objects of Common Interest, which possesses a tactile and biomorphic quality, seamlessly interacts with the garden and the rooms of the Noguchi museum, and with the work of Isamu Noguchi as a whole. Just like Noguchi's sculpture Study in the Classical depicts a de-structured column, with its components seemingly swaying, Objects of Common interest's Doric Columns subvert what is the cornerstone of classical architecture by breaking it into section, by having each section decked in fabric and by allowing every component of the column to spin when people get close to the object. 

"All of Noguchi's work for the home is meant to be touched, of course," curator Dakin Hart explained to Art & Object, "That's the reason he made sets for dance, too; he wanted to make sculpture that would be used: part of his larger project of reestablishing sculpture in an integral role in society." "We're not allowed to touch them in museums and galleries, but they can all be touched with the mind," he said. "His work is about empirical experience, empirical thought, and perpetuating empirical intelligence."

Angelica Frey

Installation view.

OOCI's "Offerings," are opalescent rock-shaped objects made with one cubic foot of plastic installed in the Noguchi Museum's garden. When they're in the shadow, they look milky. But once the sun shines on them, they get a distinct opalescent glow, which mutates according to light. They integrate seamlessly with Noguchi's Practice Rocks in Placement. Their Standing Stones, sheer, dolmen-shaped inflatable sculptures, are both playful in their softness and surreal for the way their curved surface distorts the surroundings if you look through it. 

Two side-by-side set environments further emphasize the artistic continuity between the artists. The "Lounge" assembled by OOCI contain  with Inflatable Lights, lamps that are similar in structure to the "Standing Stones," installed in the Rock Garden; the modular Tube Light Columns, curved tubes of neon that can be assembled in myriads of ways; the Metamorphic Rocks, biomorphic stools and Rock Side Tables that combine a clear counter with an iridescent base reminiscent of their "Offering" work. the Noguchi Lounge features his Freeform sofa alongside an Akari ceiling lamp and a group of Akari floor lamps. Made from mulberry bark and bamboo following the traditional lantern-manufacturing techniques of the town of Gifu, these light sculptures were called  Akari, a term meaning light as illumination, but also implying the idea of weightlessness.

Given how OOCI's artworks interact with their surroundings, be it the environment and Noguchi's work, it would not be a bad idea to come more than once throughout the seasons. "Noguchi's work is environmental. He had that knack for making places that feel like somewhere," said Hart. "The Noguchi Museum has a lot more in common with Central Park than it does with the Museum of Modern Art. And that's how we install work here: as if it were a six year old windmilling down a poppy-covered hillside, discovering that feeling of connection to everything. The harder it is to delineate hard boundaries between the Museum, Noguchi's work, and the other works we install here, the healthier the ecology of the program is." 

About the Author

Angelica Frey

Angelica Frey is a writer and translator living in Brooklyn. She writes about art, culture, and food.

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