Isamu Noguchi - Design New York Tuesday, December 5, 2023 | Phillips

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  •  “The earth of Japan has opened my eyes, as if in discovery of some new horizon.”
    —Isamu Noguchi  


    1952 was an idyllic and impactful year for Isamu Noguchi, spent living and working alongside the renowned potter Kitaoji Rosanjin in Kita Kamakura, Japan. Noguchi had recently married the actress Yoshiko Yamaguchi and, following Rosanjin’s invitation, the newlyweds moved into a centuries-old farmhouse on the potter’s property. While Noguchi built his own studio on the property, he also worked in Rosanjin’s studio, where he had full access to his kilns, clays and glazes.  


    Isamu Noguchi and Yoshiko Yamaguchi at Kita Kamakura.

    Face Dish, created in shigaraki stoneware with a mossy green oribe glaze, recalls the functional oribe ware for which Rosanjin was famed, yet Noguchi imparted his own interests and influences as a sculptor on this work. The glaze pools deeply at the edges and thins toward the center, creating a halo effect around the central unglazed decoration, which features a startling ghost-like visage picked out in a few simple shapes. The face's pared-down features evoke those of haniwa, unglazed funerary figures from Japan’s iron age, which Noguchi had first discovered in 1931, and from which he drew inspiration his entire career. The face relates, in particular, to the sculpture Bell Child from 1950, which is believed to have been inspired by a haniwa in the Tokyo National Museum.  


    [Left] Isamu Noguchi, Bell Child, 1950.
    [Right] Haniwa (Hollow Clay Sculpture) of a Warrior, 5th-early 6th century.

    Rosanjin served as a mentor and father figure to Noguchi, who was born in the United States, raised in Japan, and returned to the states as a young adult, allowing him to reconnect to his Japanese heritage in the most direct means possible, literally making art with the soil of the country. Recalling his time in rural Kita Kamakura Noguchi wrote, “Should anyone be asked of what is characteristic of my development now I think it is my rediscovery of this intimate nature which I had almost forgotten since childhood.” His work in clay was essential to this connection: “…to know nature again as an adult, to exhaust one’s hands in its earth…one has to be a potter or a sculptor, and that also in Japan.”  


    Isamu Noguchi working on ceramics at Kamakura Studio.

    In September 1952 Noguchi exhibited 120 works created over his eight months with Rosanjin at the museum of Modern Art in Kamakura, including fifty-nine vases, dishes, and tea bowls. In the catalogue essay he wrote, “The earth of Japan has opened my eyes, as if in discovery of some new horizon.”  


    Noguchi returned to New York in January 1954 to work on his garden design for  Lever House as well as to organize an exhibition of his recent work in ceramic which was eventually held at Stable Gallery, where his patron Anson Conger Goodyear, who had commissioned the Goodyear Table in 1939, acquired the present work.  

    • Provenance

      Stable Gallery, New York
      A. Conger Goodyear, New York, 1954
      Elizabeth Bliss Parkinson Cobb, 1964
      Private collection
      Acquired from the above
      Christie's, New York, "Post-War to Present," September 27, 2019, lot 207
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      "Noguchi: Sculpture and Scroll Drawings," The Arts Club of Chicago, November 11-December 7, 1955

    • Literature

      Noguchi: Sculpture and Scroll Drawings, exh. pamphlet, The Arts Club of Chicago, 1955, n.p. for the exhibition checklist
      Diane Botnick and Nancy Grove, The Sculpture of Isamu Noguchi, 1924–1979: A Catalogue, New York, 1980, p. 60 for the catalogue entry

    • Catalogue Essay

      The present lot is listed as artwork number 337 in The Isamu Noguchi Catalogue Raisonné.

Property from a Private Collection, London


"Face Dish"

Shigaraki stoneware with oribe glaze.
9 1/8 x 9 1/4 x 1 1/4 in. (23.2 x 23.5 x 3.2 cm)
Reverse incised with hiragana [no] symbol.

Full Cataloguing

$20,000 - 30,000 

Sold for $35,560

Contact Specialist

Benjamin Green
Associate Specialist
Associate Head of Sale
+1 917 207 9090


New York Auction 5 December 2023