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An Oasis of Calm: The Noguchi Museum

Published on
April 29

I’m going to say it straight out: the Noguchi Museum is far away. Like, Queens far. It takes a train ride and sizable walk just to make it to the front door. Once you walk through that door though, the journey becomes worth it. Stepping into the Noguchi Museum, the home of sculptures by artist Isamu Noguchi, is like leaving behind the flurry of city activity and entering an oasis of calm.

The first gallery space is a unique indoor/outdoor combination; natural light and air flows into the space through open areas near the ceiling, but everything is warmly contained within the neutral granite walls. Sculptures are arranged throughout the area, each reflecting a similar combination of nature and art. Nearly all the pieces in this area are stone, subtly carved and smoothed, minimalist pillars that humbly request reflection rather than make aggressive demands.

The sculptures are vulnerably exposed to the viewer, no glass case separates these works from their audience. As discrete pamphlets are quick to tell you though, “although this may seem to invite a tactile engagement with the works, this is not the case.” I totally understand why touching sculpture is bad. But it was surprisingly difficult to suppress the urge to run my hands over the stone, to splash the immaculately smooth water as it poured forth from a fountain. The tantalizing closeness, combined with the enforced distance, actually made me pay more close attention to each piece than I usually would. Without the obstruction of case or fence, each piece can be seen in intense detail- the grain of the stone, the gentle color gradation, the carved lines.

My other favorite pieces were those that were unrealized. Noguchi created plans for a number of outdoor playgrounds and parks that never received the push to actually be built. The museum preserves the ideas, displaying models and drawings for the most beautifully elegant swing set I’ve ever seen.

Though individual pieces are interesting, I was most compelled by the peaceful air that pervades the entire museum. This is not the kind of museum to drive you through the highlights straight into the gift shop. Noguchi invites you to linger around his work, to sit quietly in the sculpture garden and become a part of the unique environment he has created.