In the Garden of Isamu Noguchi

These long, lingering days are the perfect time to experience the designer’s modernist sculptures at this special exhibit at Portland’s Japanese Garden.

By Kristin Belz June 3, 2013

Several Noguchi sculptures (and other works) have traveled from the Noguchi Museum in New York (above) to Portland's Japanese Garden, on display through July 21. Noguchi felt that some sculptures were best seen outdoors: "There is a time passage to stone not unlike our own. A mellowing takes place that would not otherwise be possible."

Spring weather here in Portland has been a bipolar expedition from big sun to big rain and back again. More sunny days in May than usual, but plenty of rain, just packed into a few days. As the weather trends toward a warm, dry and sunny spell this week (so say our trusty weather folks), this is the perfect time to explore outdoors for inspiration at home. The best dose of inspiration might just be a stroll through the Noguchi sculpture exhibit at the Portland Japanese Garden.

The exhibit is on at the garden only through July 21, and is a rare chance to see works on loan from the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, in New York City. That museum has an adjunct in Japan, the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum at the studio on the island of Shikoku, where he created most of his sculptures. But the chance to see his works in Portland is unprecedented. Moreover, unlike a typical museum exhibition of sculpture, this time some of the pieces are outside, in their natural element ­– no, not in a “sculpture garden,” which has always seemed to me to be an oxymoron – but in an authentic Japanese garden.

An authentic Japanese garden is a highly-crafted, deliberate, skilled yet humble curation of nature. Portland’s Japanese garden is arguably the best example of its type outside Japan. That it exists up in the West Hills of Portland, tucked away beyond the completely different style garden, the Rose Test Garden in Washington Park, is an unlikely but welcome win for all of us who live in or get to visit Portland.

Adding 22 original works by Noguchi to the mix at the garden is an extra bonus. And during these long days, the Japanese Garden is doubling the bonus by extending its hours into the long evenings. Saturdays they’re open until 9 pm, weekdays and Sundays until 7 pm. June 15 features a formal tea ceremony “Chado, the Way of Tea.”

The exhibit includes a range of work from this polymath architect/furniture maker/sculptor/artist/set designer – from ink drawings on paper to Akari paper lanterns to sculptures of stone or metal. 

Portland Japanese Garden
611 SW Kingston Avenue
Portland, OR 97205 

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