On Saturday afternoon I took myself over to Long Island City to visit the Noguchi Museum, something I've been meaning to do for years. It is a serene, quiet place. I have never seen so much of Noguchi's work gathered in several rooms. The sculptures need space around them to breath, as even the smallest of them have powerful presences--but here they are a bit crowded. Still, lucky visitors.
A fountain had a smooth basin carved into the top so that the water simply spilled and gurgled quietly over the sides. I admired the gesture of his signature, carved in stone but so fluidly that it looked as if it had been inked with a brush.
That chunk of glaciated marble, so white it was blue...Noguchi incorporated the drill holes of the quarry into the piece...But I was overwhelmed as soon as I entered the museum. I noticed that I did what I always do when I'm on a "checklist mission": I started racing through the first cavernous room, my eye bouncing from one piece to another.
The movie slowed me down and got me into a better frame of mind for looking at art. Funny how that can be so challenging, especially if the trip is vexed by delays in transit systems and such. I was transfixed by the vistas of pieces he had designed for buildings all over the world, and I began to get a grasp of what Noguchi wanted to do, the intention of his work. I watched as the film showed Noguchi working on his stones, using large sanding devices and or hammering the face with smaller chisels.
Noguchi designed and built his museum. I don't know if he was involved in the placement of the pieces but I noticed several lovely juxtapositions of sculpture and garden; even in winter the few trees he placed outside have a strong presence.
He was clearly deliberate about every aspect of the presentation of a piece; strips of metal and slabs of wood made up pedestals. His dealer, Arne Glimcher, said that Noguchi would grow very attached to some of his work, and even if he had sold it, he would say, no, that's too good to give away, I'll make another one just like it for the client. Did anyone ever notice, I wondered? Did anyone ever have a strange feeling that they didn't have the same piece with which they had been smitten?
Sometimes, someone in the movie said, Noguchi would feel that he had cut off too much of the stone, and that would make him unhappy. He would leave it for a few days, while it healed, and when he returned to the piece, he could see where to go.
I found myself peering at the sculptures. They are handsome and strong in their entireties, but that day, to me, they were even more marvelous up very close. I'm a rock hound; I can be distracted for long minutes by patches of boulders, and my suitcases after a vacation are full of rocks.
But I couldn't take a picture of any whole piece; I couldn't even figure out how to see them in their entirety, and it was a strange feeling. I decided I wasn't ready for it. Sometimes I approach books that way, too...I can't see the entire book, I get lost in sentences of transcendent beauty, and lose the shape, the architecture, of the whole edifice. This, of course, means I must return. And I will.
What Noguchi managed to do to the surfaces of the boulders he worked seems to have brought forward something essential about their nature, whether smoothed to a boot-polish black...
... or cut away so that the red seems clotted, ready to bleed out. Or meaty.
The only piece I did capture in full was one that looked like a heart tilted sideways. Or heaving itself hotly up out of the snowy ground.