October 4, 1999
Volume 52, No. 7
Noguchi sculpture to go up on Quad
The Emory Quadrangle is a green shape edged with trees and full of stories. By tradition a ceremonial site for graduation and other events, the Quad has also provided a stage for unusual events like the Noh theater performance last spring.
On Oct. 6 Emory will celebrate the Quadrangle's tranquil energy with the siting of sculptor Isamu Noguchi's 1985 "Beginnings" on the grounds just outside Cannon Chapel. The sculpture assembles five separate elements in andesite granite, evoking Japanese rock gardens.
Noguchi (1904-1988) was the son of a Japanese poet and an American writer. Born in the United States, he spent his childhood in Japan; he was influenced by both Eastern and Western cultural traditions. He was drawn to the work of Constantin Brancusi and assisted him in Paris for several years before returning to Japan to study Eastern aesthetics. He subsequently developed a unique personal style that made him one of the most important artists of the Modernist period.
A project of the Carlos Museum's outdoor sculpture program, "Beginnings" is on loan from the Isamu Noguchi Foundation in New York. Carlos Director Anthony Hirschel and Assistant Director Catherine Howett Smith worked with President Bill Chace, and with James Meyer and Clark Poling of the art history department, to bring the important work of art to campus.
Both Meyer and Poling credit Howett Smith as the driving force behind the loan acquisition. Bringing the Noguchi sculpture to Emory continues the initiative of her father, Professor John Howett, who recently retired from the Emory art history department. A supporter of contemporary sculpture, Howett organized the 1980 commission of "Source Route" the site-specific sculpture ramp by Canadian George Trakas in the ravine next to the museum. During the Olympics three years ago, the museum secured the loan of an Anthony Caro sculpture that was placed at the edge of the Quad near the administration building.
"The language being used in connection with the Master Plan, that the campus needed to be designed as a place for contemplation, reflection and learning, inspired me to reenergize our quest to bring sculpture to campus that dates back 20 years," Howett Smith said. "I couldn't conceive of a Master Plan with those goals that didn't include great outdoor sculpture."
"Beginnings" has a significant history; the sculpture was first exhibited when Noguchi represented the United States at the 42nd Venice Biennale in 1986. He wrote about the work while he was preparing for the exhibition: "The random placement of five stones is called 'Beginnings,' which are in turn deviations from the stone gardens of Japan, the source of much of my thinking. I am constantly on a search to find from a stone new possibilities. It is this discovery that stirs my imagination and is most exciting to me."
Noguchi's designs are already well known and enjoyed in Atlanta. He created the children's "Playscapes" in Piedmont Park. The colorful climbing, swinging and sliding structures illustrate Noguchi's belief in the importance of play and the need to promote children's imaginative recreation and movement. His "Pièta" from 1985 stands in an alcove of the inner courtyard at the Coca-Cola corporate offices on North Avenue. The rough-surfaced bronze sculpture has been part of the corporate collection for over 10 years.
Noguchi is known for site-specific installations in public settings, such as in the courtyard of the Bienecke Library at Yale University and in Lower Manhattan at the Chase Manhattan Plaza. Although Emory's sculpture is not site-specific, its placement was a careful decision made by the committee in consultation with the Noguchi Foundation, whose director came to see the site before the loan agreement was finalized.
"Noguchi is a fascinating figure in the development of 20th century sculpture," Poling said. "He developed as a Modernist sculptor and then looked to his Japanese roots relatively late in his career to do work that evokes Zen rock gardens and provides places for meditation. I think it's wonderful that we're getting a sculpture of this quality by an important artist like Noguchi."
Meyer agreed. "Examples of fine public sculpture are uncommon in Atlanta and at Emory," he said. "Bringing the Noguchi to campus will expose the Emory community to a fine example of modern sculpture. It is my hope that we will be able to secure more works of this caliber in the future."