Light as Art: The Light Sculptures of Isamu Noguchi

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Paper-looking lantern designed by Isamu Noguchi

There are just a few lighting fixture designers that have stayed in the public consciousness over the years. One of them, a favorite of mine, is Isamu Noguchi. His light sculptures, made of simple materials (washi paper (the inner bark of the mulberry tree), bamboo and metal), transcend time. They are as fresh and vital today as when they were introduced onto the market in the 1950s. They are all part of the Akari Collection. The term "Akari," in Japanese, means both light as illumination as well as the sense of weightlessness.

Noguchi working on lighting fixture
Photo: Noguchi Museum (www.noguchi.org)

Noguchi was a Japanese American, born in 1904 to a Japanese father and an American mother. His aesthetic is both modern and Asian at the same time. In addition to light fixtures, he also created sculptures, ceramics and furniture. His lighting sculptures are still being produced today, by hand, using the same materials. They are all made in Gifu City, Japan. Each one is unique. There are plenty of imitators on the market. Be sure to buy from a trusted source. And if you get a chance, visit the Noguchi Museum in Queens, NY (www.noguchi.org).

Noguchi lantern lighting fixture
Photo: Randall Whitehead

  This light sculpture comprised of stacked squares and rectangles is truly a piece of art, reminiscent of skyscrapers and temples.

Paper round and rectangular lighting lanterns
Photo: Randall Whitehead

Noguchi’s shapes can be pleasingly plump or tall and undulating. They are unmistakably his. 

Noguchi's paper table lanterns
Photo: Randall Whitehead

These floor lamps and table lamps appear to be bowing, honoring the person who is entering the room.

Long paper lanterns
Photo: Randall Whitehead

His lanterns can also take on the feel of a soft geometry, such as these glowing isosceles triangle.

About the Noguchi Museum

Located in Queens, NY, the Noguchi Museum was founded by Isamu Noguchi in 1985. Its purpose is to showcase what Noguchi considered to be representative examples of his life's work. The museum was built around a 1920s industrial building and includes indoor/outdoor exhibits and an outdoor sculptural garden.

"In building a museum," the museum's website reads, "Noguchi was an early pioneer who led the metamorphosis of the Long Island City area into the arts district it is today, home to cultural institutions such as Socrates Sculpture Park, SculptureCenter, MoMA PS1, and Museum of the Moving Image, among others."

In addition to showcasing Noguchi's work, the museum also houses his research and provides educational opportunities and exhibits to the New York City's public school system as well as the general public.

Randall Whitehead headshot

Randall Whitehead, IALD, is a professional lighting designer and author. His books include "Residential Lighting, A Practical Guide." Whitehead has worked on projects worldwide, appeared on the Discovery Channel, HGTV and CNN, and he is regular guest on Martha Stewart Living Radio. Visit his website www.randallwhitehead.com for more information on books, upcoming seminars and the latest lighting trends.

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