“Let the East learn from Western civilization. Let the West learn from the Eastern culture. In the world of freedom, we naturally create a relationship to each other.”—Isamu Noguchi, in an address to the staff at the Industrial Arts Research Institute in Tokyo
Isamu Kenmochi (1912–1971) was one of the pioneers of industrial design in Japan. Postwar Japanese artists struggled to create their own original industrial products. Kenmochi sought to establish Japanese modern design while reinventing traditional techniques and materials. Like many Japanese artists of his generation, Kenmochi was inspired by Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988), a pivotal figure in twentieth century sculpture and design. Through Noguchi’s influence and subsequent introductions to creative masters such as Alexander Girard, Walter Gropius, George Nelson, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Kenmochi traveled abroad and collected furniture, household products, and thousands of color slides documenting American and European design, which he brought back to Japan to share with contemporaries in the field.
Noguchi and Kenmochi first met at the architect Kenzo Tange’s office at Tokyo University on June 24, 1950. In August of that year, Noguchi spent two weeks teaching with Kenmochi at the Industrial Arts Research Institute in Tokyo. Basing his approach on Japanese design traditions, Noguchi persuaded the artists at the institute to look beyond the mere exotic. The ideology they developed came to be known as Japanese Modern, or Japonica Design.
Bonnie Rychlak is curator and director of collections at the Noguchi Museum in New York. An artist herself, Rychlak worked as Isamu Noguchi’s assistant until his death in 1988, and is a leading authority on Noguchi’s life and art.
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Bonnie Rychlak is chief curator at the Isamu Noguchi Museum and Foundation, New York.
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