Just In: An Extremely Rare Isamu Noguchi Chess Table
LAMA’s May 22, 2016 auction of Modern Art & Design will feature an Isamu Noguchi Chess Table, one of the acclaimed sculptor’s finest pieces as a designer and a seminal work in the development of organic modernism. Among aficionados and collectors, the Noguchi Chess Table is among the most admired and coveted objects in the field of mid-twentieth century American design.
Lot 184, Isamu Noguchi Chess Table, designed 1944–1948
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction
Working in his Greenwich Village studio in 1944, Noguchi created the table for the art gallery exhibition “Imagery of Chess,” organized by Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst. Alexander Calder and Man Ray were also contributors, yet a Newsweek critic described Noguchi’s entry as “the most beautiful piece in the show.” Architect and writer George Nelson—who, the following year, would become director of design at the Herman Miller Furniture Company—purchased the original table.
In 1947, Nelson persuaded Herman Miller to put two Noguchi designs into production: the Chess Table and his now-iconic glass-topped coffee table with an articulated wooden base. First offered in 1949, the Chess Table was also marketed as a coffee table. Rather than a grid of squares, Noguchi devised an 8 x 8 arrangement of red wax dots and inset acrylic discs for the playing surface, so that the table would not be solely associated with the game. The tabletop swivels to reveal a cast-aluminum tray with hollows in which to store chess pieces or other sundries. Few of the Chess Tables were manufactured. By one reckoning, fewer than a dozen Chess Tables still exist today.
The biomorphic elements that compose the Chess Table—the curvilinear top, legs, and tray—are just as striking and surprising now as when they were created. Throughout his career, Noguchi espoused a conviction that everyday design objects should enrich our lives as much as art. The Chess Table was, perhaps, his most elegant demonstration of that belief.
Klyber, Troy. “We’ve Got Game.” Web log post. The Art Institute of Chicago. The Art Institute of Chicago, 14 Sept. 2014. Web. 18 Mar. 2016.
Herman Miller, designed 1944–1947
Model no. IN 61
19″ x 26.25″ x 26.5″
Literature: Design 1935-1965: What Modern Was. M. Eidelberg. 1991. 107.