December 16, 2012


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Lot 285: Isamu Noguchi

Lot 285: Isamu Noguchi

Chess table

Designed 1944-48
Birds-eye Maple, inlaid acrylic, inlaid red wax, painted black aluminum, steel rod, maple
Model no. IN 61

Herman Miller

18.75" x 26.25" x 25.5"

Provenance: Gansevoort Gallery, New York; Property from an Important West West Coast Collection (acquired from above, 1999)

Exhibited: "The American Century, Part I," Whitney Museum of American Art, 1999; "Vital Forms: American Art and Design in the Atomic Age, 1940-1960," Brooklyn Museum of Art, Walker Art Center, Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Phoenix Art Museum, 2001-2003; "Surreal Things: Surrealism & Design at the V&A", Victor & Albert Museum, Boijmans Museum, and Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, 2007-2008.

Literature: Eidelberg, Martin. Design 1935-1965: What Modern Was. New York: Abrams, 1991. p 77. p 106-108.

Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000
Price Realized: $187,500
Inventory Id: 4192

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Both sculptural and utilitarian, the Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) Chess table (designed 1944-48) was a chance for Noguchi to marry his artistic vision with his desire to produce useable vessels. He designed the initial prototype shortly after leaving the Nisei Japanese internment camp in Arizona. In 1944, Noguchi was one of 32 artists (the number symbolic of the 32 pieces on a chess board), including Alexander Calder, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and Max Ernst, invited to exhibit chess-inspired artwork for the show “The Imagery of Chess,” hosted by the Julien Levy Gallery in New York. A Newsweek critic described the table as “the most beautiful piece in the show.” George Nelson immediately bought Noguchi’s hit piece, and for a brief period beginning in 1947 had it manufactured in limited quantities at Herman Miller. Three amorphous wooden shapes and a curvaceous aluminum compartment assemble as a three-dimensional biomorphic structure. Just as Arp and Calder avoided semi-precious stones and other materials typically used in jewelry, Noguchi preferred veneered plywood, aluminum, and acrylic plastic to keep the table affordable. Through these methods, these artists achieved the transformative power of Surrealism by manifesting an idea and realizing the object’s potential “to entrap” the user in “an art performance, even to become bewitched.”

Johnson, Paul, and Martin Eidelberg. Design 1935-1965: What Modern Was. New York: Abrams, 1991. Print.
K., Troy. “We’ve Got Game.” ARTicle. The Art Institute of Chicago, 14 Sept. 2011. Web. 6 Nov. 2012.