In 1938, two years after completing one of his first realized public artworks, “History Mexico,” a sculptural, colored cement mural on the second floor of the Abelardo L. Rodríguez Market in Mexico City, the Japanese-American artist and designer Isamu Noguchi, then 33 years old, won a public competition to create a frieze at the Associated Press Building (now called 50 Rockefeller Plaza) at Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan. Completed after a year of labor, the 20-foot-tall cast stainless-steel bas relief sculpture, called “News,” remains installed there today, above the main entrance. Depicting five larger-than-life, bulkily-armed, broad-shouldered, media-making men—one on the phone, the others writing, typing, observing, and picture-taking—it is a shining example of his early work. Considered together, these two pieces represent a young Noguchi building toward what would become an incredible output of poetic, boundary-pushing, public-oriented work across six decades, from playscapes and furniture to stone sculptures and Akari paper lamps (manifested perhaps most magnificently in the form of his namesake museum in Long Island City, Queens, which he founded in 1985).
Through much of this work, Noguchi would navigate his own dual identity (he was born in Los Angeles to a Japanese poet father and an American teacher, writer, and editor mother) and push beyond—defy, even—any preconceived borders between what might be called “art” and “design.” These explorations resonate and reverberate in “Intervención/Intersección,” a provocative, exquisitely arranged group exhibition that opens today and is on view through June 24 across three sites at Rockefeller Center: inside a former post office on the concourse level of 610 and 620 Fifth Avenue, atop the plaza’s famous flagpoles, and just outside of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Organized by the roving Mexico City–based MASA gallery and curated by Su Wu, the presentation, MASA’s New York City debut, features a vast range of sensuous and spirited works by artists, architects, and designers who are Mexican or who currently live and work in Mexico, such as Pia Camil, Frida Escobedo, Héctor Esrawe (one of MASA’s co-founders), Pedro Reyes, and Rafael Prieto, alongside those of several canonical 20th-century figures—including, appropriately, Noguchi. The show’s aim? To capture a sense of “this history of creative porosity between Mexico and the U.S.,” Wu says, and to engage in “a rebellious spirit, where we can introduce fissures.”
Since its founding in 2018, MASA has brought a Noguchi-like mindset to its various projects, viewing itself less as a traditional gallery and more as a nomadic global platform for merging art, architecture, and design. (It has plans for upcoming exhibitions in the Hamptons, Paris, and Los Angeles, and has previously put together shows in Mexico City, Oaxaca, and Miami.) “I feel like MASA has always been rooted in this optimism that we could create a new sense of place, or that we could identify or highlight the shared affinities, shared longings, and shared concerns that can come to define a place better than strict citizenship or borders,” says Wu, who moved to Mexico five years ago from Joshua Tree, California, with her husband, the artist Alma Allen, whose sinuous, organically shaped bronze sculptures feature in the exhibition. Three of them appear next to, and in direct conversation with, a slim steel sculpture by Noguchi.
Forming the metaphorical beating heart of the show are two Noguchi models—one, of his undulating “Contoured Playground” (1941), an earthwork-playscape concept he created as a proposal for Central Park; another, of a little-known, rarely seen mural he made in 1937 that features imagery that relates to the artist Frida Kahlo, with whom he had once had a love affair. (The latter model even features a human heart among its carvings.) Conveniently, or perhaps intentionally—the show does indeed include many subtle adjacencies and curatorial winks—both models are geographically centered in the post office space, with the mural mounted on a wall squarely in the middle of it.
Expansive and expressive in its outlook, “Intervención/Intersección” could be viewed, in its entirety, as its own sort of “playscape.” In a perhaps literal interpretation of this idea, there are, adjacent to the “Contoured Playground” model, a trio of green twisted-steel sculptures by the artist and filmmaker Miguel Calderón, who took an everyday playground fixture—the seesaw—and transfigured it into something surreal and Dalí-esque. Nearby, sculptural copper pieces—a chair, a sculpture—by designer and artist Brian Thoreen (another of MASA’s co-founders), hand-hammered in the Michoacán town of Santa Clara del Cobre, similarly defy function. These would not appear out of place in a public park, and as with so many of Noguchi’s works, they invite curiosity, play, and even introspection. The show is full of such clever pairings, each piece conversing with the next and—in certain cases, as with an elegant, ribbon-shaped light fixture by Esrawe—with the building’s architecture.
Certain works in the exhibition intentionally engage with memory and history, functioning as potent mini-memorials. One is a piece by the artist and film producer Rubén Ortiz Torres, who kintsugi-ed the reflective, cosmic-colored hood of a lowrider car, repairing its many scratches, dings, and markings. Beyond being an eye-catching object, the work effectively creates constellations of metaphor and meaning. Its very surface is an abstracted mural. Another example is the sand-casted bronze “Memoria” stools (2017–2020) by Esrawe’s EWE Studio, which take traditional homemade artisan’s seats, imprinted with decades of daily wear by their users, and cast them in bronze, for posterity.
Collectively, “Intervención/Intersección” is an ode to to the fact that craft, art, and design, when harnessed properly, can transcend any one discipline, intersecting in a way that’s at once conceptual, functional, beautiful, highly tactile, indefinable, and—as is the case across all of Noguchi’s work—simply, wonderfully engaging.
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Hanna Nova Beatrice is the founder and editor-in-chief of The New Era, a recently launched independent Scandinavian design publication. “It grew out of a strong belief in the [power of] priResidence magazine, prefers to consume media the old-fashioned way, with an eye toward periodicals that innovate on physical page How do you start your mornings?
As the world adapts to pandemic life, we’ve seen creativity heroically emerge, in nearly every sector, amid limitations.Kei Truck Garden Contest in Osaka, which brings nature closer to city-dwellers in the form of compact, foliage-filled creations. (The date for t
For most of us, the urge to bring smartphones into our bedrooms is too strong to resist—even when science, and firsthandattest to the habit’s harmful effects. One way to curb the temptation: Loftie, an alarm clock designed to transform sleep spaces into phone-free sanctuaries. Calibrated for the digital age, the dev
Those visiting Japan’s beloved gardens during the winter might be struck by the sight of trees confined within mysteriouyukitsuri—the term for these intriguing rope webs—is a traditional Japanese gardening technique intended to protect trees’ long b
Design can be a powerful tool in times of crisis, when creativity is a crucial element for survival. At the start of theDesigners Against Coronavirus, and in the fall, took the project a step further by documenting 272 of the works in a book of the same name. Nearly all the resources to publish it, from the paper to securing the copyright for each image, were donated, and the
Formgivning, the Danish word for “design,” serves as both a thesis and a call to action in a new book, Formgiving: An Architectural Future History (Taschen), by the Copenhagen-born architectural practice Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). This is no project-by-project compe
By poking around the murky world of hoaxes, ghosts, spirit paintings, and holograms, A. Joan Saab—the vice provost of acObjects of Vision: Making Sense of What We See (Penn State University Press). We recently spoke with Saab about why things aren’t always as they appear, and the reason
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, better to be held in the warm focus of Steve McQueen’s gaze than one more narroSmall Axe, his enthralling new five-film anthology now streaming in the U.S. on Amazon Prime Video (and available in the U.K. on
This year has driven many of us to create a de facto home spa—steeping in long, leisurely baths for solace. One such batEkin Balcıoğlu, a Taos, New Mexico–based artist and the founder and editor-in-chief of Hamam, a new quarterly print publication about the culture of bathing that will release its second issue later this month. Hamam, while bursting with originality, has parallels to Wet magazine, the subversive, now-defunct cult classic founded in 1976 by Leonard Koren (who was the guest on Ep. 78 of our At a Distance podcast) that explored pleasure and play through a loosely water-themed lens.
In 2018, when writer Amitav Ghosh appeared at the Brooklyn Public Library to discuss his book The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, Joel Whitney, who manages arts and culture programs at the institution, took note. “I was surprised by Amitav’s main iClimate Reads book club, a yearlong digital initiative launched by Whitney’s department and the advocacy group Writers Rebel NYC earlier this fall, suggests otherwise, with climate-focused fiction titles including Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad, The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel, and Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk on its roster. The club plans to tackle a handful of nonfiction books, too, such as The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming by the late Japanese farmer-philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka, and Why We Swim—the focus of next month’s meeting—by swimmer and surfer Bonnie Tsui.
Sometimes—especially in moments of political strife, pandemics, hurricanes, or all of the above—a television plotline caWatch a train wend its way around the fjords and farms of the Norwegian countryside over the course of seven hours, or see a sweater get made, in the time of a typical work day, from A to Z (beginning with shearing a sheep’s wool), set to the tune of cheery foldogs frolicking on a beach, a meandering stroll among flowering cherry blossoms in Japan, and a sailing trip to Tobago, accompanied by the soothing sounds of waves lapping against a boat’s exterior. The format can arguably be traced to n1963 film “Sleep” consisted entirely of his lover, the poet and performance artist John Giorno, napping. Regardless of its subject matter
For those of us who are lucky enough to have a full plate right now, consider helping those who don’t. One avenue for alCoalition for the Homeless, forced to cancel its annual fall fundraising gala due to the pandemic, is launching the Artist Plate Project, a limited-edition collection of porcelain platters depicting works by 50 legendary artists, including Tauba Auerbach, Ep. 25 of our Time Sensitive podcast). The series will be available on the organization’s website beginning Nov. 16. Profits from the heirloom-worthy tableProspect, will go toward serving the 59,000 New Yorkers who currently live in shelters or who struggle to survive on streets andA recent study by Columbia University predicts that homelessness will increase by 40 to 45 percent within the next year due to Covid-19—making the coalition’
Durham, North Carolina–based journalist and filmmaker Saleem Reshamwala has been particularly productive of late: In addBecoming America anthology, he’s host of the TED podcast Pindrop and a mentor to emerging Asian and Asian-American filmmakers through a new fellowship program called The Sauce.