Anyone who thinks there’s nothing animate about a rock has never experienced Isamu Noguchi’s natural rock installations and smoothly carved marble designs at the Isamu Noguchi Museum in Queens. Noguchi once said, “The essence of sculpture is for me the perception of space, the continuum of our existence.”
He was born in Los Angeles in 1904 and was considered to be a 20th century icon of abstract stone sculpture, spending much of his 84 years melding the relationship between the majesty of nature and the art of stone. Noguchi built, installed, and designed the museum, and approximately 80% of the artwork the Japanese-American artist originally placed in the museum remains in the same spot twenty years later, a fact that attributes greatly to the transcendent energy of the space. Benches are scattered throughout the garden and galleries to facilitate moments of reflection. The artwork is not labeled with either titles or text; Noguchi liked his pieces displayed in this way. For a little background on the exhibits, boxes with visitor guides line the walls, and guided tours are available at 2pm every day.
Noguchi’s Japanese garden is an ethereal sanctuary not to be missed, its sculptures like the self-contained fountain “The Well” (which lives indoors during the winter) succeed in finding the harmonious balance between art and nature. He once said, “I had a revelation in 1933 of the earth outdoors as a new way of conceiving sculpture.” Although the sculptures in the garden are currently crated while renovation is being done on the building, the area is still pleasant and worth a visit. The garden will be completely closed to the public this fall, so it is recommended to see it before then.
One block away from the museum, at the end of Broadway, is a park with a spectacular view of Manhattan and the East River called Socrates Sculpture Park where free movies and classes take place in the summer; it is not a gem, but the unusual sculptures in the park are always changing. At the onset of spring, there is a giant, green deer standing on the lawn. The bizarre sculptures in the park merit a drop-in, so bring a picnic, especially if you’re already in the neighborhood and in the mood for things of an eccentric nature.
How to get there: A shuttle bus to the museum leaves from the Asia Society on Park Avenue and 70th Street throughout the day on Sundays. Costing $10 for a round trip on top of the $10 admission fee at the museum, there are cheaper and equally simple ways to get there, and some scenic routes if you take the tram to Roosevelt Island. The tram leaves Manhattan from 59th and Broadway. There’s a $0.25 shuttle on the island that will take you to the Roosevelt Island Bridge. Walk across the bridge and turn left on Vernon Boulevard. Walk three blocks to 33rd Road, and the museum is at 9-01 33rd Road. That’s if the weather is nice, and you’re looking for an adventure.
For a more traditional way to reach the museum, take the N or W train to the Broadway station in Astoria.
The museum is open Wednesday through Friday, 10am to 5pm and Saturday and Sunday 11am to 6pm. It is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. (Isamu Noguchi Museum, 32-37 Vernon Blvd., Long Island City, 718.204.7088, noguchi.org)
The park is open 365 days a year from 10am to sunset, and admission is free. (Socrates Sculpture Park, 32-01 Vernon Blvd., Long Island City, 718.956.1819, socratessculpturepark.org)
Photos: Courtesy of Elizabeth Felicella for the Isamu Noguchi Museum