Isamu Noguchi

The Self


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On display at Tate Liverpool

Isamu Noguchi 1904–1988
Metal on stone base
Object: 860 x 229 x 210 mm
Purchased 1960

Catalogue entry

Isamu Noguchi born 1904 [-1988]

T00338 The Self 1956

Not inscribed
Iron, 33 7/8 x 9 x 8 1/4 (86 x 23 x 21) on iron and stone base; height including base 45 1/4 (115)
Purchased from the artist through the Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris (Grant-in-Aid) 1960
Lit: Isamu Noguchi, A Sculptor's World (London 1967), pp.35, 245, repr. pl.81 as made in 1956
Repr: Kunstwerk, XIII, August-September 1959, p.52; Sam Hunter, American Art of the 20th Century (New York 1972), p.253

In his autobiography, Noguchi states that this is one of a series of iron castings made in 1956-7 in Japan (where he had gone to make a theatre curtain or Doncho). 'As an admirer of the old iron pots found in Japan, I had long hoped to tap the casting skill that must be there somewhere. This I found in Gifu, the city where my akari [lampshades] are made. I set about making objects suitable for iron casting, more simple and crude than anything one would normally associate with bronze.'

'The Self', which is being cast in an edition of four, has sometimes been dated 1957 but is listed in his autobiography as a work of 1956.

Noguchi added later (letter of 12 April 1969): 'Besides the one you have, there is one in Chicago which I mistakenly thought was owned by the Chicago Art Institute. It was instead bought by Mrs Florsheim from a show at the Art Institute where it won the Logan Medal. I believe this was with the understanding that they would get it eventually. There is another copy in Japan belonging to Mr Sofu Teshigahara. This leaves one to go, besides which I should like to have a cast made for myself.

'All the casts were made with the intention of being mounted in the way you have.

'The idea for this iron sculpture first appeared as a small study in ceramic. This was shown in a ceramic sculpture show at the Kamakura Museum of Japan in 1952 and later at the Stable Gallery in New York in 1954. I don't know who owns it.

'This ceramic piece was called GENSHI JIN in Japan meaning the "original" or "primitive" man. GENSHI has the added modern meaning of Atom. The term could then mean The Atomic Man.

'Why I shifted the name in the case of the iron casting was that it always had for me the connotation of "selfishness", or the man alone, the only existential identity. Hence ... "The Self".

'Yes, the casting you have was made in Gifu, Japan.'

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.562-3, reproduced p.562

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