The sculptor and artist Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) was an iconic figure in 20th century art. While he lived in both the United States and Japan, he spent his later years in Mure, Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture, working from a studio that commanded a view of the Seto Inland Sea.
Now open to the public as a museum, both his workshop and traditional Japanese residence have been carefully preserved, inside and out, just as they were when the artist was alive. The museum is operated mainly by local sculptor Masatoshi Izumi, who collaborated with Noguchi in his later years.
Numerous sculptures are on display: completed works, black and polished, stand alongside unfinished sculptures showing chisel marks and rough surfaces. The sound of a saw cutting stone fills the air from the nearby stone processing factory. It is a place that allows the visitor to absorb the atmosphere of the sculptor’s home and reflect upon the days he spent there working with his stones.
Noguchi was born in Los Angeles, Calif., in 1904 to an American mother, who was a writer, and a Japanese father, who was a poet. At age 3, he moved to Japan. He returned to the United States in 1918 and studied sculpture in New York’s Lower East Side.
As his career took off, Noguchi remained based in New York while he traveled all over the world. He came to Mure for the first time in 1956 and visited the local stone quarry where “aji-ishi” stone is produced. Aji-ishi stone is known for its beauty and remarkable hardness. The artist fell in love with the foothills that stretched between Mount Gokenzan and Yashima. Eventually, he built a studio, and set up residence in Mure in 1969.
The stone walls that surround the workshop are the first thing that catches the eye. Stones large and small are piled up, creating a sturdy barrier just like a castle wall. Inside the enclosure, the ground is overlaid with sand. Called “Workspace Kura,” the studio is a striking structure with white walls and a black-tiled roof. About 150 Noguchi pieces are on display.
Fumi Ikeda, administrative director of the Isamu Noguchi Foundation of Japan Inc., said, “The first thing Isamu Noguchi did was to build a stone wall, thus creating a private space.”
Not all of Noguchi’s works are indoors. Outside one can see black stones, polished to a gloss. There are also stone columns with their edges sharply shorn off. An array of sculptures, both finished and unfinished, stand side by side--all laid out as Noguchi had placed them long ago.
"Noguchi used to say that ‘ultimately, time will complete my work,’" Ikeda said.
The display hall, called “Exhibition Kura,” was originally a sake brewery built in the Meiji Era (1868-1912). Enamored with the traditional building, Noguchi had it moved to Mure. Inside the dusky gallery, Noguchi’s “Energy Void” (1971) is on display. It is a huge piece of art, 3.6 meters tall and weighing some 17 tons.
The highly polished black granite surface gives off an almost sultry sheen. The empty space in the middle of the structure shifts in appearance and shape, depending on the viewer’s vantage point, from square to triangle. Even its blurry shadow cast on the wall seemed to morph into a different shape when the entrance door was opened slowly.
Noguchi continued working here at his studio until November 1988 when he left on a trip to New York, asking friends and acquaintances to “keep an eye on things.” He died there on Dec. 30, a month and a half later, at the age of 84.
The museum offers guided tours by curators who are well-versed in Noguchi’s work and his life. They also provide detailed commentaries in English. The individual pieces and the various buildings, however, remain unnamed, and no titles or information are offered.
As for this omission, Ikeda explained, “The aim of this museum is to have each visitor encounter Isamu Noguchi on their own, to meet and converse with him.”
Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum Japan
3519 Mure, Mure-cho, Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture
About 45 minutes by taxi from Takamatsu Airport
About 25 minutes by taxi from JR Takamatsu Station
The museum is open on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Museum tours are given by appointment only at 10 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m.
Make reservations by visiting the museum website at:
2,100 yen ($21) for adults and college students
1,050 yen for high school students
Free admission for junior high school students and younger children