08 January 2007

Isamu Noguchi -- Musical Weather Vane, 1933

Over the course of Noguchi's career, he made many models. In different ways, these models "stand in" for sculptures he was never able to realize. It is unclear how much effort he expended in attempting to realize them, although it seems they were all sincerely intended to be materialized, even those that seem the most theoretical and hypothetical such as his proposed To be Seen from Mars of 1947.

In his proposal for a Musical Weather Vane, Noguchi combines natural forces and phenomena (wind, sound, light, movement) with a mechanical man-made device created with the object of capturing something with certain qualities of living, breathing beings. In his almost desperate desire to realize such an animate sculpture, he gives the primary visual and functional element a distinctly organic shape. It suggests a lung, kidney, gills, ear, or some other body part. The rod and sphere to which it is connected and directly reliant are obviously abstract, non-living material meant to support the action, motion, shine, and sound of this hypothetical Musical Weather Vane.

Later in life when he put down his thoughts in his memoirs, he described his motivation to create this piece thus:

"I wanted other means of communication -- to find a way of sculpture that was humanly meaningful without being realistic, at once abstract and socially relevant. I was not conscious of the terms 'applied design' or 'industrial design'. My thoughts were born in despair, seeking stars in the night.

"In this frame of mind I designed Musical Weather Vane. This was to be made of metal, with fluting that would make sounds like those of an aeolian harp. It was to be wired so as to be luminous at night. The idea may have come from China, where small flutes made of gourds were attached to pigeons, and made a whooing sound as they flew about."
-- Isamu Noguchi, A Sculptor's World, 1968.

Archival image.

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