Noguchi Museum by Lena Dystant
Finding some space and a little quiet in noisy, non-stop New York is no easy task. It is a concentrated mass of fast moving people, slow moving tourists, too many cars, weird smells, loud talkers and not an inch left untouched.
This is, of course, one of the greatest cities in the world and its options are endless. If you’re willing to search, there are indeed corners to retreat to, places to hide. A 40 minute subway ride from midtown Manhattan lands you in Long Island City, Queens. A lengthy walk along a nondescript high street leads to a series of rusting industrial warehouses. Among these storage units and repair shops, a small, pristine grey brick building emerges. This is the Noguchi Museum, home to artist Isamu Noguchi’s greatest works and quite possibly the best museum in New York.
Primarily a sculptor, a life-long champion of public art, Noguchi refused to limit himself to one discipline. His furniture, lighting and set designs as iconic as his large scale sculptures, from the imposing 28 foot Red Cube at 140 Broadway to his delicate and endlessly copied Akari paper lamps, his work spanned scale, form and material.
Born in Los Angeles, the Japanese-American artist spent his 84 years living and working between two continents. His former studio on the island of Shikoku, Japan converted into a spectacular garden museum, Noguchi’s US base would be similarly transformed. The Long Island City site designed and curated by the artist himself for the display of his own work may, on paper, sound like the boldest of vanity projects. Yet the result is an exercise in restraint. Only an artist so completely dedicated to simplicity and understatement could pull off such a brave move.
Opened in 1985, a three-year renovation completed in 2004, twenty-seven thousand square feet of stripped back gallery has been divided across two floors. His trademark biomorphic sculptures and perfectly formed marble circles sit alongside distorted loops, softened granite slabs and organic shapes carved from Californian driftwood. A separate room holds a beautiful selection of small, delicate and unfamiliar ceramic objects arranged precisely across a white surface, while nearby a heavyweight mid-century icon, his sturdy and confident Coffee Table produced by Herman Miller, stands as contrast.
No queues, no noise, no scrambling for a good view, this hard to find corner of Queens is a world away from Manhattan’s imposing landmark museums. Stepping through the tiny gift shop selling cups of green tea and washi paper prints (of course) a walled garden continues the ‘Serenity Now’ theme. Echoes of Noguchi’s Shikoku hillside studio, this incredible outdoor space is the museum’s crowning glory. Immaculate greenery, simple concrete benches, carefully placed Practice Rocks in Placement, and a church-like silence observed by all 4 of your fellow visitors should be enough to cancel out memories of the rattling, over-crowded train that brought you here.
9-01 33rd Rd, Queens, NY 11106, United States
Lena Dystant is London-based writer & stylist.
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