Isamu Noguchi and Qi Baishi: Beijing 1930
The work of the American sculptor, landscape architect, and furniture designer Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) has long been associated with Japan. Indeed his introduction to ancient sculpture and garden design traditions during a stay in Japan in 1931 is thought of as a turning point in his early career. Less well known is the story of Noguchi’s six transformative months in Beijing (formerly known in English as Peking) from July 1930 to January 1931. There Sotokichi Katsuizumi (1889–1985), a Japanese businessman and collector of Chinese painting, introduced him to Qi Baishi (1864–1957), now considered one of the most important Chinese artists of the twentieth century. Noguchi spoke no Chinese and Qi no English, but they quickly formed a friendship and Noguchi began to study with the master ink painter. Under Qi’s influence, he took up brush, ink, and paper—the key tools of East Asian traditional painting and calligraphy—to create the series of more than one hundred works later called the Peking Drawings. Seen together as a group and alongside examples of Qi’s paintings—as they are for the first time in this exhibition—these impressive works suggest the importance of China in Noguchi’s artistic formation, usually eclipsed by his relationship to Japan. Indeed the often overlooked PekingDrawings acted as a laboratory in which he discovered a language of abstraction that informed his entire career.
Isamu Noguchi and QiBaishi: Beijing 1930 was organized by the University of Michigan Museum of Art in collaboration with The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York, and consultant Alexandra May. The seeds of the exhibition were found in a group of ten works by Qi Baishi and Isamu Noguchi donated by Sotokichi Katsuizumi, a UM alumnus, to the University of Michigan Museum of Art in 1949. These are complemented by loans from The Noguchi Museum and important public and private collections in the United States. The exhibition also includes the seal carved and presented to Noguchi by Qi, and materials from Katsuizumi’s archive.
Associate Curator of Asian Art
University of Michigan Museum of Art