Isamu Noguchi’s unrealised playground design revealed in New York

Isamu Noguchi’s unrealised playground design revealed in New York

Isamu Noguchi’s sculpture and design work might seem focused on the individual’s experience, but in fact, the legendary artist also greatly considered the realm of public space, too. In a new exhibition currently on view at The Noguchi Museum in Queens, New York, one of Noguchi’s unrealised designs for a playground takes centre stage.

Created in 1941, ‘Contoured Playground’ was a concept utilising ‘earth modulations’ to delineate a landscape where children could play. Like many of Noguchi’s other designs for playgrounds, it was never built, though one archival photograph clearly depicts the fully completed concept in a two x two ft plaster model, which Noguchi cast of the design.

It’s from this photo that the museum has created a 10 ft square enlargement of the original model, along with recreations of the original playground equipment that Noguchi had designed for it. (The equipment proposals were only ever documented in one archival photograph.)

Isamu Noguchi New York
Model of  Isamu Noguchi’s ‘Contoured Playground’ (1941), fabricated 2018-2019. Photography: Nicholas Knight

The installation is further complemented by a 1:1 scale silhouette of the topography that Noguchi envisioned for the playground, giving viewers the feeling of standing at the heart of it, should it have ever been built. Co-curated with Naomi Frangos, an architect and visiting associate professor at Cornell University, the exhibition also featured is a bronze cast version of the original model, which dates from 1963, together with several other schematic interpretations of the playground space that all provide a multilayered experience of understanding this large-scale, unrealised design.

Noguchi’s other explorations in spatial design can be further seen in an additional curation of models, being presented at the same time. Five designs for projects have been grouped together to form ‘Models for Spaces’, a secondary exhibition highlighting some of Noguchi’s endeavours where little is known. These include a model for gardens for the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company (1956-57), which did get built, a memorial to Buddha (1957) in New Delhi, India, which was never realised, as well as a design for a stone and water terrace in the atrium of the Sogetsu Flower Arranging School (1977-78) that was realised.

Viewed as a whole, both exhibitions exemplify Noguchi’s belief in sculpture’s ability to manipulate our experience of space. In his own words, ‘If sculpture is the rock, it is also the space between the rock and a man, and the communication and contemplation between.’ §

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