A new exhibition at The Noguchi Museum celebrates Isamu Noguchi’s love and reverence of Greece, an affection shared by Objects of Common Interest co-founders Eleni Petaloti and Leonidas Trampoukis, who run their design and architectural practice between Athens and New York. The show includes works by Objects of Common Interest, such as tubular lights, opal resin ‘rocks’, fabric Doric columns and blue steel sculptures, which have been curated and positioned in reciprocity with Noguchi’s existing works, by Dakin Hart, The Noguchi Museum’s senior curator and organiser of the exhibition.

Isamu Noguchi and Greece

Noguchi and Objects of Common Interest art works
Objects of Common Interest, Tube Lights (2019), installed among Isamu Noguchi’s late-career basalt and Manazuru stone sculptures in The Noguchi Museum’s indoor-outdoor gallery, Area 1. Artworks © Objects of Common Interest and © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / Artists Rights Society

In his working years, Noguchi (1904 – 1988) began regularly stopping off in Greece on his way back and forth between New York and Japan, although he first discovered Greece through mythology read to him by his mother: he once described the country as his ‘intellectual home’. At one stage, he located a Penteli marble craftsman who would carve rudimentary blocks of marble for him to work on back in New York, but his relationship to Greece went much deeper than the physicality of making. He forged friendships with the local creative scene, attending operas and dinners, and often carried a copy of Henry Miller’s Greek travelogue, The Colossus of Maroussi. Speaking to a Greek journalist in 1958, he recalled a recent trip to Delphi: ‘Did you notice how well the space ties in with the objects and the movements of people, and how perfectly, how wisely the whole thing is framed by nature?’

Exhibition in the making 

Noguchi sculptures
Objects of Common Interest, Offerings–Rock III (2000), joins Isamu Noguchi’s Practice Rocks in Placement (1982 – 83) in The Noguchi Museum’s garden. Artworks © Objects of Common Interest and © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / Artists Rights Society. 

Objects of Common Interest’s Petaloti and Trampoukis, who are also co-founders of architectural practice LOT, have long been admirers of Noguchi. When the museum published its extensive archive online in 2019 (including the expansion, redesign and digital publication of its catalogue raisonné), making tens of thousands of photographs and documents available to all, the duo’s research intensified. 

‘Eleni and Leo have been interested in Noguchi for a long time. They live not far away; this is their neighborhood museum,’ says Hart. ‘The exhibition began in the best possible way, without any thought of an exhibition, in conversation: about Noguchi, and Greece, and nothing in particular. What has gradually drawn me in is the relaxed and meticulous way that they develop things that serve no specific or real or marketable purpose. They are exuberantly and brilliantly unerring in their un-aiming. That’s a rare quality, that is profoundly Noguchi-adjacent,’ he says, noting Petaloti and Trampoukis’ gentle, exploratory approach. ‘If your entire process is adaptation without a precise or particular end in mind, that makes it a lot easier to end up somewhere that feels right – even during a pandemic and an international shipping apocalypse.’ 

Petaloti says, ‘When it was written, the exhibition title, “Objects of Common Interest: Hard, Soft, and All Lit Up with Nowhere to Go”, expressed a hope, perhaps even an expectation, that by this fall, space for a playful sort of aimlessly redemptive abstraction would have returned to daily life. Reality has had other ideas.’

The collaboration 

 Isamu Noguchi.
The Acropolis, Athens, Greece, c. 1950s. Photo: Isamu Noguchi. The Noguchi Museum Archives © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / Artists Rights Society

Noguchi and Objects of Common Interest share a synergy: the ability to gently percolate global perspectives together. Petaloti and Trampoukis describe their approach as ‘an amalgamation of thinking and making between two diverse poles, Greece and New York, switching between the formal and the intuitive, embracing the handmade and the tactile, the experimental and the poetic’. Similiarly, with studios in New York, Japan and Italy, Noguchi’s peripatetic existence afforded him a fluidity of existence, living everywhere and nowhere. Always challenging the realm between art and design, his pioneering exploration of sculpture outside the formal gallery setting, the social impact of art, the meeting of conceptualism and formalism, continue to feel as poignant and relevant today as they did decades ago.

Digital and democratic

Isamu Noguchi, Kyoko Kawamura, and Nikos Kouroussis with the Omphalos stone in Delphi, Greece, 1988
Isamu Noguchi, Kyoko Kawamura, and Nikos Kouroussis with the Omphalos stone in Delphi, Greece, 1988. The Noguchi Museum Archives © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / Artists Rights Society

In conjunction with the exhibition, a rich and robust digital feature on The Noguchi Museum’s website shares much of the background material and research that shaped the evolution of the show, giving valuable and often unseen context. Titled ‘Noguchi in Greece, Greece Within Noguchi’, the feature includes intimate and personal archival material such as Noguchi’s own photographs of the Temple of Apollo taken in Dephi in 1949, and the Acropolis in Athens from 1950s, and handwritten correspondence to local acquaintances. A series of books will follow, expanding on the content of the digital feature, including more photography. §

Noguchi high school essay
Isamu Gilmour (Noguchi), ‘The Greeks and Socrates’, 1922, high school essay. The Noguchi Museum Archives © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / Artists Rights Society
Isamu Noguchi, Torso, 1926. Plaster. The Noguchi Museum Archives
Isamu Noguchi, Torso, 1926. Plaster. The Noguchi Museum Archives © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / Artists Rights Society
Isamu Noguchi with Kouros (1945)

Isamu Noguchi with Kouros (1945) at the exhibition ‘Fourteen Americans’, Museum of Modern Art, New York, September 10, 1946 – December 8, 1946. Photo: Eliot Elisofon. The Noguchi Museum Archives © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / Artists Rights Society