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A Historic Isamu Noguchi Ceiling Has Been Removed

A Historic Isamu Noguchi Ceiling Has Been Removed

Today, Isamu Noguchi is arguably best remembered for his luminous Akari lamps. But in fact, the famed Japanese sculptor was known to devise interiors all his own. In 1944, he created a space for the New York City Time & Life Building, while in 1947, he worked to bring the rooms of the Lunar Voyage, SS Argentina to life. Unfortunately, both of those projects have since been destroyed. And now, another interior commission has sadly joined their ranks. 

Today, the Noguchi Museum shared a statement detailing the removal of Ceiling and Waterfall, which was installed in 1956 though 1957 in the lobby of 666 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. As the nonprofit organization explained, it had been in talks since last year with the building’s current owner, Brookfield Properties, to try to find a remedy that would allow the work to stay in situ while living up to the artist’s original vision and intent. “As stewards of the artist’s legacy, the Museum advocated for the work to remain in some form, even if that required some adaptation, and even though it had been compromised by renovations predating Brookfield’s ownership,” the institution said in a statement. “However, Brookfield Properties, as the owner of the building and the work, chose to exercise its right to remove it.” In the past, the museum had successfully worked to stop the removal of the ceiling. 

Isamu Noguchi photographed in his studio in 1966.

Photo: Jack Mitchell / Getty Images

Luckily, the structure was removed in a thoughtful process, which took place over two months this past fall. With the help of the Noguchi Museum and with Brookfield Properties paying for all the associated costs, the structure was photographed, catalogued, and documented throughout October and November. What is more, since the surviving design elements have now been donated to the New York museum, there’s hope too that the piece could one day be brought back to reinstalled life—in a new, if altered, form. 

In a brief article published on the museum’s own website, Matthew Kirsch, curator of research and digital content at the Noguchi Museum, shared more about what made the steel and aluminum structure so special. Commissioned after Robert Carson of Carson & Lundin asked Noguchi to translate an unrealized design for a Texas office building to the Manhattan skyscraper’s setting, it was a topographical tour de force.

As Kirsch put it: “The ceiling and waterfall transformed a rather harsh, cold, low-ceilinged matrix of marble clad hallways into a surprisingly whimsical, semi-organic environment, with sound from the waterfall naturalizing traffic noise from the street and the filtered light and undulating shape of the ceiling creating an infinite ‘landscape of clouds.’” Indisputably, the makings of a dream.

The Noguchi Museum declined to comment on the news further when reached by AD PRO.

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