Isamu Noguchi was born in Los Angeles in 1904 to mother Léonie Gilmour, an American writer, and father Yonejiro Noguchi, a poet and graduate of the Department of Literature at Keio University, where he would later teach. His father returned to Japan soon after Isamu was born, and Noguchi's mother took him to Japan to live with his father in 1907. Sadly, Yonejiro had already started a new family with a Japanese woman by this time, and Noguchi went to live with his mother, who chose to stay in Japan.
It would be more than a decade before Noguchi traveled back to the United States. In 1918, he returned to the U.S. at his mother's discretion with dreams of becoming an artist while serving as an apprentice to a prominent sculptor, but unsure of his future, he entered the Columbia University Pre-Med program in 1923 to explore a career in medicine. During this time, he made the acquaintance of prominent Japanese bacteriologist Hideyo Noguchi, who had met Isamu's father on a lecture tour of the U.S. They quickly became friends over their shared surname, and Hideyo was happy to treat Isamu as kindly as he had his father. It is rumored that when Isamu consulted Hideyo about whether to become a doctor or an artist, Hideyo told him that the artist was more admirable and encouraged him to follow in his father's artistic footsteps.
In 1924, he began to study sculpture in earnest at the Leonardo da Vinci Art School in New York, and the following year, he held an exhibition that helped him establish himself as a professional sculptor. In 1927, he received a Guggenheim scholarship to study in Paris. Later, after producing stage sets in the U.S. and murals in Mexico, he gradually rose to prominence as a promising international artist. However, Noguchi did not set foot on Japanese soil again until 1931, when he was reunited with his estranged father.
Just over a half-century later, in 2002, the decision was made to demolish the Second Faculty Building to make way for construction on the South Building. At the time, a debate arose both inside and outside the university, drawing attention from numerous parties, including the Isamu Noguchi Foundation in New York, over the preservation of the Noguchi Room.
When the Second Faculty Building was eventually demolished, Keio tapped architect Kengo Kuma, then a professor at the Faculty of Science and Technology, to restore the Noguchi Room as an entirely new space. Renowned environmental designer Michel Desvigne was asked to design the garden outside. In 2004, the Ex-Noguchi Room building and Noguchi's sculpture Mu(Nothingness) were installed on the roof terrace on the third floor of the South Building, while sculptures Wakai Hito(Young Man) and Gakusei(Student) were exhibited on the first floor.
The relocated space is now known as the "Ex-Noguchi Room." While the building is usually closed to the public, public events are held regularly to provide visitors with the opportunity to experience Isamu Noguchi's art.
360-degree panoramic views of the Noguchi Room Archive are now available online.
The Keio University Art Center took note of the artistic and cultural value of the Noguchi Room long before plans for its relocation and started the Noguchi Room Archive project. The website offers 360-degree panoramic views of the original interior and garden before relocation.
3D Panoramic View
The free online course "Invitation to Ex-Noguchi Room: Preservation and Utilization of Cultural Properties in Universities" is now available on FutureLearn!
In this course, FutureLearn frames the Ex-Noguchi Room as a case study to consider the possibility of visualizing, preserving, and utilizing cultural properties at universities.
*This article originally appeared in Stained Glass in the 2021 Autumn edition (No. 312) of Juku.