A closer examination of the Japanese-American artist drawn to unconventional women and removing hierarchy from art
Meditative, Modernist, versatile. These are all ways in which the work of Japanese-American sculptor and artist Isamu Noguchi has been described. It’s obvious then to see why twin sisters Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen aligned their latest collection for The Row with his serene creations. Now 12 years old, the duo’s brand is exemplary of luxurious minimalism and high design. As much is true of the clothes: floor-length enveloping cashmere, sculptural swathes of chiffon and silk, billowing cotton blouses, barely there flats that enable a soft, barefoot gate. Each is an epitome of its timelessness to the extent that these paradigm pieces reappear season upon season, year after year. But this same taste for design is evident further still in their stores, which are replete with mid-century modern masterpieces by Charles and Ray Eames, Charlotte Perriand, Lina Bo Bardi, Finn Juhl, Jean Prouvé, Poul Kjærholm, and Paul McCobb. The same can also be said of their Instagram account which boasts almost a million followers.
Having collaborated with world-renowned furniture dealer John Birch (founder of design mecca Wyeth) for their previous presentation, this season saw them segue into the art world proper, showing on a catwalk stippled with Noguchi’s striking sculptures as arranged by The Noguchi Museum’s senior curator Dakin Hart. The designers’ connection to his work was manifold as an introduction to a miniature printed catalogue of the works, penned by Hart, outlined: Noguchi, Hart writes, “collaborated with, befriended, loved, and relied on some of the most brilliant nonconformist women of the 20th century. Martha Graham, Berenice Abbott, Marion Greenwood, Florence Knoll, Elizabeth Hawes, Frida Kahlo, Jeanne Reynal, Clare Boothe Luce, Marie Harriman, Dorothy Miller, and Ginger Rogers, to name a few.” Any The Row customer, with her intellectual approach to dressing, would no doubt feel they were in good company among these women.
Integral too were Noguchi’s forays with fashion. From the 1930s, he designed costumes for theatre, layouts and artwork for Harper’s Bazaar, and crafted numerous dresses. One such dress helped transform choreographer Ruth Page into a resemblance of his angel-shaped sculpture Miss Expanding Universe; others were tight-fitting kimonos for his wife, the movie star/politician/political commentator Yoshiko ‘Shirley’ Yamaguchi.
As well as clothing, Noguchi created numerous pieces of iconic furniture design. His orb-like paper Akari lamps, still widely popular today, combined Japanese traditional craft with a mid-century Western aesthetic. The Noguchi table, made in 1947, is a collectable: its free-form sculptural rosewood base echoing the spacey but organic curves of his artworks. Either piece would look perfectly at home in a The Row store – which is precisely the point of this collaboration. As Hart notes, Noguchi’s works “push sculpture into space, motion, interaction, and daily life,” they work as explorations of his non-hierarchical view of the creative disciplines. And watching this new collection in all its aqueous beauty, flowing between these sculptures – almost transmogrifying into sculptures themselves – the hierarchy between creative disciplines disappears. Art melds into fashion, and melds into daily life.”
For more information, visit the Noguchi Museum.