Light sculptures and stone sculptures sitting on the floor of a concrete open air gallery with trees growing in the corner.
Objects of Common Interest, Tube Lights (2019), installed among Isamu Noguchi’s late-career basalt and Manazuru stone sculptures in The Noguchi Museum’s indoor-outdoor gallery, Area 1. Courtesy Brian W. Ferry

Objects of Common Interest Gets Up Close and Personal with Isamu Noguchi

The Noguchi Museum’s Hard, Soft, and All Lit Up with Nowhere to Go exhibition draws striking parallels between the contemporary studio and the influential master. 

Since the dawn of industrialization, people have struggled to differentiate art and design: what’s expressive, aesthetically pleasing compared to what is practical, and accessible. This never-ending quest seemed futile to Modernist polymath Isamu Noguchi. For him, finding the right, perfectly-distilled, and timeless shapes was essential in transcending such limiting distinctions. Sculpture, regardless of being a work of art, stage design, lamp, or piece of furniture, can be functional. 

“I am not a designer,” Noguchi wrote in the Spring 1949 issue of The League Quarterly. “The word design implies catering to the quixotic fashion of the time. All my work, tables as well as sculptures, are conceived as fundamental problems of form that would best express human and aesthetic activity involved with these objects. The act of creating a fundamental form, though it may be disciplined by the fundamental nature of the object desired, is not designing in the accepted sense.” 

All my work, tables as well as sculptures, are conceived as fundamental problems of form that would best express human and aesthetic activity involved with these objects.

Isamu Noguchi, The League Quarterly (1949)
Objects of common interest designs placed near Isamu Noguchi sculptures in the Noguchi Museum Garden.
Objects of Common Interest, Offerings–Rock III (2000), joins Isamu Noguchi’s Practice Rocks in Placement (1982–83) in The Noguchi Museum’s garden. Courtesy Brian W. Ferry.

New York and Athens-based studio Objects of Common Interest follows a similar philosophy. The architecturally-trained duo—Eleni Petaloti and Leonidas Trampoukis—describe their approach as creating objects and spaces that are moments of unfamiliar simplicity and abstract empirical tools of social function. Whether creating sculptures or furnishings, they’re untethered by categorization or fleeting trends. “We’re more interested in how forms, without overcomplicated decorative maneuvers, can have secondary layers of experience that are revealed through use: illusionary elements that appear solid but are actually soft,” says Petaloti “We like [to subvert] common notions of function and aesthetics.”

A new exhibition at The Noguchi Museum in Queens, New York intersperses key recent works by Objects of Common Interest throughout the institution’s vast permanent collection. Hard, Soft, and All Lit Up With Nowhere to Go runs through February 13, 2022. Mounted by senior curator Dakin Hart, these compelling juxtapositions reveal nuanced associations in formal exploration: proportion, monumentality, architectonic articulation, and organism. 

Various sculptures placed no podiums or on the wood floor in a gallery with large industrial windows in the background.
Objects of Common Interest, Formations, 2018, joins Isamu Noguchi’s works in Noguchi: Useless Architecture. Courtesy Brian W. Ferry Artworks © Objects of Common Interest and © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / Artists Rights Society

“There are multiple narrative layers that one can perceive when moving though the museum and the installations,” says Trampoukis. “Our work spans mediums, materials and scales, without a set aesthetic. We’re more interested in playing with ambiguity and perception.” 

Though Hart and his team rearranged some of Noguchi’s sculptures to better facilitate these vignettes, the process was entirely intuitive. While Objects of Common Interest’s acrylic-cast Offerings–Rock III series and inflatable Standing Stones populated the museum’s rock garden, the crystalline Tube Light I and Tube Light II co-habitat with Noguchi’s late-career basalt and Manazuru stone sculptures.oth bodys of work challenge the boundaries of what’s a object and what’s a space. Upstairs, columnar masterpieces are organized to evoke an Ancient Greek courtyard with the duo’s cobalt blue Formation series denoting the Aegean Sea. More of these placements can be found in various corners of the museum. They promote a sense of physical engagement; something we’re all in dire need of. 

“The aim of the exhibition, like most of the programs we do with creative people other than Noguchi, is to open up various facets of his thinking, without trying to explain them,” says Hart. “When programming this exhibition we expressed a hope, perhaps even an expectation, that we could return the museum into a space of playful and aimless interaction by this fall. After all the collective stress we’ve endured, this will be a not entirely useless sort of folly.”

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