The Noguchi Museum presents two exhibitions devoted to Isamu Noguchi’s iconic Akari light sculptures, the lightweight, collapsible paper lanterns with which the artist remained deeply engaged from 1951 until the end of his life. Akari: Sculpture by Other Means will include over 100 lamps, representing about forty individual models, as well as a substantial selection of archival materials; Akari Unfolded: A Collection by YMER&MALTA will present a selection of 26 Akari-inspired lamp designs created by this innovative French design studio. On view at the Museum from February 28, 2018, through January 27, 2019, the two exhibitions will give life to Noguchi’s almost limitless ambitions for these luminous paper lanterns, which expand the boundaries and definitions of sculpture.
Noguchi Museum Acting Director Jennifer Lorch states, “Noguchi’s Akari are among his most iconic and celebrated works, and they are still in production today. This exhibition will explore them through historic and innovative installations, complemented by a trove of archival materials that document the exhibition and promotion of the lanterns from the early 1950s on. We are also pleased to present a complementary presentation by the design firm YMER&MALTA, which has created a line of lamps that demonstrates the ongoing influence of Noguchi’s creations.” Exhibition curator Dakin Hart, Senior Curator at the Museum, states, “It is with the affordable, lightweight, collapsible, and now ubiquitous, Akari—which solve virtually all of the problems associated with sculpture—that Noguchi achieved his high ambition to positively alter the built environment. Sculpture by Other Means aims to show Akari as Noguchi intended it: as a flexible, open-ended, modular ecosystem of light sculptures, rather than a fixed product line, and to demonstrate some of the unusual ways in which they shape, transform, and create space. The new lamps presented in Akari Unfolded: A Collection by YMER&MALTA parallel the development of Akari by synthesizing various craft traditions with new technology, pushing the basic alchemy of Noguchi’s light sculptures into the future. We are grateful to Valérie Maltaverne and YMER&MALTA for demonstrating the ongoing power of Akari to inspire.”
Noguchi’s most effective solution for integratingart with daily life, his electrified paper, bamboo, and metal Akari light sculptures have quietly become among the most ubiquitous sculptures on Earth. Their origins lie in 1951 when, on a trip to a still devastated post-war Japan, Noguchi was asked by the mayor of the small town of Gifu City to help revitalize the local lantern industry by creating a modern lamp for export using the traditional washi paper---which is made by hand from the inner bark of the mulberry tree---and bamboo. Inspired by the lanterns that illuminated night fishing on the Nagara River, Noguchi worked with a local firm to combine the elements of the traditional paper lantern with electricity. He designed a dizzying array of new forms—creating contemporary art by marrying ancient craft with the defining technology of the twentieth-century. He would go on to create more than 200 models of Akari, including an entire line for his exhibition for the American Pavilion at the 1986 Venice Biennale, in the process receiving five American and thirty-one Japanese patents.