Isamu Noguchi and Robert Stadler have never met. That would have been near logistically impossible. Austrian-born, Paris-based Stadler hasn’t much made it to the United States — in fact, his first major US exhibition has just opened at the Noguchi Museum in Queens, New York.
Despite not interacting, these two aesthetic renegades speak the same language, formally and conceptually that is. The show, titled 'Solid Doubts’, is a meeting of the two minds. As exhibition curator Dakin Hart says, 'Noguchi and Stadler share qualities — they both like to break rules, standards and conventions, and their practices are outside commercial aesthetic motivations.’
While Noguchi was known as an artist who meddled in affairs across party lines, even though ‘people like Noguchi in siloes’, as Hart says, Stadler approaches from an opposite vector. He’s a solution-oriented designer whose curiosity and wit echoes that of a conceptual artist. ‘Robert has a clear vision,’ explains Hart, ‘and is able to tow the line between art and design. His interest in function isn’t his end-all.’
'Floating Lunar', by Isamu Noguchi, 1945. Private collection. Photography: Nicholas Knight
Inside the exhibition are four vignettes where the works of the two rabble-rousers are put into conversation together, a phrase often used in curation to describe pieces hung near one another; but in this particular instance, it’s a bit more literal.
Take Area 3, in which sit Stadler’s ‘Cut_Paste’ series, marble and Alucore consoles and coffee tables that while thoroughly contemporary could have been plucked from the 1960s, often with Noguchis plopped on top. To both the trained and untrained eye, it’s hard to distinguish just which pieces are Stadler’s and Noguchi’s. In a fabulous example, Noguchi’s ‘Big Id’, a black-and-white marble appendage-looking thing, leans against the backside of ‘Cut_Paste #5’, a high-backed console that together seemingly is a unified piece.
Over in Area 6 are Noguchi’s set pieces for Martha Graham’s Hérodiade dance, including the iconic mirror, chair, and clothes rack (all from 1944) that sit amid Stadler’s ‘PDT’ – pierre de taille or cut stone, ashlar table and mirror that maintain the same simplified ‘contained chaos’. In Area 6 also hangs Stadler’s latest lighting concept, a moveable hanging light fixture that ‘frees the light source from a fixed position’, Hart explains, and is covered in a paper lantern shade.
Stadler was unaware of Noguchi’s famed Akari lamps, explains Hart, ‘Robert didn’t think of Noguchi as a fellow traveler or had that much to do with his own practice.’ In fact, the show is, says Hart, ‘a blind date between Robert and Noguchi, we wanted to make the rooms feel like these were illicit liaisons of objects who have been caught.’ Star-crossed, these two are indeed.