Across the Sea: Isamu Noguchi and Constantin Brancusi

Sometimes geography has everything and nothing to do with artistic vision. Check out the similar, and famously convergent, paths of these two artists who were both guided by nature, yet worlds apart.

In 1898, at 22, Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi arranged an apprenticeship with a local cabinetmaker. Soon, he set foot for Paris and enrolled in the école des Beaux Arts.

Years later, at 21, Japanese-American art student Isamu Noguchi saw the now-controversial Brancusi’s 1926 show at the avant-garde Brummer Gallery, and—spellbound—acquired a Guggenheim Fellowship that allowed him to work as Brancusi’s studio assistant in Paris.

“Great good fortune such as this has something of the divine and inevitable," Noguchi said of his introduction to Brancusi. The two artists’ influence was reciprocal and deep.

Brancusi’s famous Leda encapsulates his belief in metamorphosis. The natural beauty of its stone is distilled into a modest swan-like form, and the artist flips his own mythic inspiration: Zeus is replaced with the Greek god’s female affection.

Noguchi’s sculpture, Downward Pulling, envisions Brancusi’s idea of inherent change but is less resolved; its suspended Spanish marble yearns (despite its title) to move upward as much as down.

On the role of the sculptor, Brancusi famously said, "In art, one does not aim for simplicity. One achieves it unintentionally as one gets closer to the real meaning of things." Even as his designs reached mass production, apprentice-prodigy Noguchi found success and reliable awe in common, elemental materials, transformed.

Explore In Focus: Japan on Artsy.

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