“The Sculptor and the Ashtray” Exhibition

The Noguchi Museum

poster for “The Sculptor and the Ashtray” Exhibition
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Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) was profoundly in sync with America’s mid-century obsession with the power of design to shape the modern world. Dual exhibitions The Sculptor and the Ashtray and Composition for Idlewild Airport testify to his interest in making sculpture everywhere out of everything. In the mid-1940s, the ashtray—even more than the martini shaker, the radio, or the barbeque—was an example of an object at the center of a predominant social ritual, the shaping of which was then becoming central to Noguchi’s conception of how to make socially relevant modern sculpture. In the late 1950s, air travel was a still-developing ritual of modernity, in the process of becoming synonymous with one-world culture.

The Sculptor and the Ashtray was inspired by an unpublished article written around 1944 by Mary Mix (Foley), an architecture and design writer at George Nelson’s Architectural Forum. It chronicles Noguchi’s efforts to design the perfect ashtray. Mix noted that this “commonplace gadget” was made and used across the full spectrum of material culture, from tacky novelty items and marketing swag designed by unknown “hacks” to solid-gold objets d’art conceived by the great artisans of the day for the coffee tables of monarchs.

Mix’s article documents Noguchi’s creation of two families of ashtray concepts. The first, handcrafted and biomorphic, was developed through a process of progressive refinement over nine modeled plaster prototypes. These are known from Mix’s account, and two images in the article’s layouts show them grouped together. Of the ninth iteration, which Noguchi seems to have considered the finished design in that line of thinking, Mix wrote that the ashtray appeared “not as a clever design, but as a natural object which grew inevitably and could be no other way.”

The other concept was a modular design conceived for industrial manufacture—to be produced “cheaply by the million” according to Noguchi. It consisted of arrays of standing bullet-shaped projections, to be produced in glass or metal, that could be set into other ashtrays as an accessory, and around which Noguchi designed two complete ashtrays, each with a slightly different scheme for facilitating easy cleaning. Noguchi referred to this version—which he viewed as the result of invention rather than craft—as “an American expression of the machine age.” He told Mix that “an artist who doesn’t take advantage” of America’s “facilities for machine manufacture…is just a fool!” It turned out, however, that the ashtray design was too complex for existing industrial techniques. Neither of the ashtray designs went into production.

The exhibition includes patent applications for Noguchi’s second concept, replicas of the designs contained within them, letters between Noguchi and his close friend R. Buckminster Fuller relating to the concept, recently produced exhibition copies of Noguchi’s (inextant) ashtray prototypes, and the original typescript of Mix’s article and two mockup layouts.

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Schedule

from February 12, 2020 to August 23, 2020

Website

http://www.noguchi.org (venue's website)

Fee

Adults $10, Seniors and Students $5, Members, New York City public high school students and Children under 12 Free, First Friday of the month Pay What You Wish

Venue Hours

From 10:00 To 17:00
saturdays opening at 11:00, sundays opening at 11:00, saturdays closing at 18:00, sundays closing at 18:00
Closed on Mondays, Tuesdays, Holidays

Access

Address: 9-01 33rd Road, Long Island City, NY 11106
Phone: 646-486-7050 Fax: 646-486-3731

Corner of Vernon Boulevard. Subway: N/W to Broadway(Queens)

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