In an unprecedented expansion of its online archive, the Noguchi Museum announced last week the addition of 60,000 archival photographs, manuscripts, and digitized drawings pertaining to the life and work of the influential Japanese American artist Isamu Noguchi. Known best for his sculpture, public works, and more recently his interior décor, the museum’s continued research focuses on making the artist’s body of work, spanning six decades throughout the 20th century, easily accessible to the public. The simultaneous launch of an updated digital catalogue raisonné underscores a shift in recent years as institutions look to make their collections interactive and digitally accessible.
The completion of a multiyear project, the archive now features 28,000 photographs documenting the artist’s works, exhibitions, various studios, personal photographs, and influential friends and colleagues. The archive also includes correspondence, exhibition records, press clippings, and architectural drawings and plans. Organized by collection so viewers can easily browse through photographs, manuscripts, architecture, business & legal, archival, etc., the wealth of imagery is overwhelming and also surprising, bringing attention to works we might not often associate with Noguchi. The “search” option, tailored for students, scholars, and other professionals looking for specific information or imagery, adds a nice user experience element to an already minimalist design.
An early adopter of the digital format, the catalogue raisonné first launched in 2011 and has now been updated to include artworks and exhibitions from the early decades of Noguchi’s career. Managing Editor of the catalogue raisonné Alex Ross told Hyperallergic, “New updates are being rolled out in progressive installments organized generally around each of the six decades of Noguchi’s artistic practice. The present phase includes considerable new research around Noguchi’s earliest artworks and exhibitions: those from the 1920s and 1930s.”
The research into these early decades also led to the discovery of “several significant artworks which were assumed to have been lost or destroyed,” Ross explained, as well as previously unattributed pieces that the archive is now able to confirm as works by Noguchi. Differing from the archive’s structure, the catalogue raisonné is organized by decade, and jumping from the 1920s to the 1990s is a fun visual exercise in the styles and concerns of much of the last century, seen through the eyes of one prolific, multifaceted artist.
In celebration of the artist’s would-be 115th birthday, the digital expansion, redesigned website, and updated catalogue take an appropriately egalitarian approach to sharing Noguchi’s body of work. “The materials that are now available to everyone with access to the internet manifest the protean, interdisciplinary nature of Noguchi’s work,” Museum Direction Brett Littman says in the museum’s press release. “They will not only enlighten those who browse the Digital Archive and Catalogue Raisonnė, but it will also inform the Museum’s programming as new ideas and directions take form.”