Art

Traversing the Brooklyn Botanic Garden with Isamu Noguchi

Isamu Noguchi at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Isamu Noguchi, “Zazen” (1982-83), hot-dipped galvanized steel, alongside the belated 800-year-old Sargent Juniper in the Bonsai House at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Eighteen sculptures by Isamu Noguchi are dispersed across the Brooklyn Botanic Garden just as late summer is turning to fall. A 1952 tower of bronze birdlike forms is on the Cherry Esplanade, while in the Bonsai House a 1980s hot-dipped galvanized steel sculpture contrasts its rounded, abstract shapes to the gnarled tornado of wood that is what remains of the 800-year-old Sargent Juniper. The outdoor exhibition opened earlier this month as a collaboration with the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, with all the pieces organized from their collection by their senior curator, Dakin Hart. The museum’s own garden is currently closed for renovations.

It is an ambitious exhibition in terms of space and audience engagement, as the pieces chosen like the stern steel “Wind Catcher” (1982–83) or the flat bronze circle of “This Earth, This Passage” (1962) are not the friendliest of Noguchi’s work. However, it has moments where the Japanese-American artist’s deft melding of the natural and human-made harmonize with the botanic garden, such as the basalt “Age” (1981) standing tall with the trees in the Elm Grove, or the subdued “Sky Mirror” (1970) with its polished stone surface reflecting the sky alongside the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden.

Isamu Noguchi at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Isamu Noguchi, “Magritte’s Stone” (1982-83), hot-dipped galvanized steel, installed on the steps of the Osborne Garden

That garden with its pavilions and pond is celebrating its centennial year, and eight of the Noguchi sculptures are installed along its banks. It’s wonderful to have these pieces out in the sunlight, as the sculptor often designed art for public space and gardens. However there was more of an opportunity here to embed them deeper into the trees and gardens, to encourage more discovery. The provided map unfortunately is a bit hard to navigate, so the adventure can become more of a frustrating puzzle where you have to walk through the Native Flora Garden with its tall grasses a bit aimlessly before stumbling upon pieces like the crooked basalt “Untitled” (1986). The garden is offering guided tours on Saturdays and Sundays, if you’re pressed for time and intent on seeing them all.

Below are some photographs from the sculptures in late summer. As the exhibition continues through December, fallen leaves will cover in the ground with reds and brown, early snow might mingle with the sculptures, and the seasonal shift in light may offer new perspectives on Noguchi’s stone and steel work.

Isamu Noguchi at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Isamu Noguchi, “Strange Bird” (1945, cast 1971), bronze, gold patina, installed on Turtle Island in the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden
Isamu Noguchi at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Isamu Noguchi, “The Whole” (1984), granite, installed in the Osborne Garden
Isamu Noguchi at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Isamu Noguchi, “Untitled” (1986), basalt, installed in the Native Flora Garden
Isamu Noguchi at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Isamu Noguchi, “This Earth, This Passage” (1962, cast 1963), bronze, installed in the Native Flora Garden
Isamu Noguchi, "Age" (1981), basalt, installed in the Elm Grove
Isamu Noguchi, “Age” (1981), basalt, installed in the Elm Grove
Isamu Noguchi at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
‘Isamu Noguchi: The Transformation of Nature,’ installed in the Conservatory
Isamu Noguchi at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Isamu Noguchi, “Root and Stem” (1982-83), hot-dipped galvanized steel, installed in the Desert Pavilion
Isamu Noguchi at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Isamu Noguchi, “Jack in the Box” (1984), bronze plate, installed in the viewing pavilion of the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden (stroller only a temporary intruder)
Isamu Noguchi at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Isamu Noguchi, “Mountains Forming” (1982-83), hot-dipped galvanized steel, installed (at right) on the hill above the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden
Isamu Noguchi at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Isamu Noguchi, “Sky Mirror” (1970), basalt, installed on the north side of the pond in the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden
Isamu Noguchi at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Isamu Noguchi, “Rain Mountain” (1982-83), hot-dipped galvanized steel installed outside the west gate of the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden
Isamu Noguchi at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Isamu Noguchi, “Bird Song” (1952, cast 1985), bronze, installed in the Cherry Esplanade
Isamu Noguchi at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Isamu Noguchi, “Strange Bird” (1945, cast 1971), bronze, gold patina, installed on Turtle Island in the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden

Isamu Noguchi at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden continues through December 13 at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (150 Eastern Parkway, Prospect Heights).

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