Lonely Planet Writer

New York City unveils two new exhibitions on Isamu Noguchi’s stunning Akari lamps

Two new companion exhibitions have opened in New York City that are dedicated to the work of sculptor and artist Isamu Noguchi, taking visitors on an in-depth journey through the creative process behind his famous Akari lamps.

The Akari cloud piece at the Sculpture by Other Means exhibition.
The Akari cloud piece at the Sculpture by Other Means exhibition. Image courtesy of the Noguchi Museum

Running until January 2019 at the Noguchi Museum, the exhibitions are called Akari: Sculpture by Other Means and Akari Unfolded: A Collection by YMER&MALTA. Devoted to the artist’s collapsible paper lanterns created from 1951 up until the end of his life, Akari: Sculpture by Other Means includes over 100 unique pieces, as well as archival materials, while Akari Unfolded: A Collection by YMER&MALTA presents a selection of 23 Akari-inspired lamp designs created by the innovative French design studio.

An Akari wood enclosure. Image courtesy of the Noguchi Museum

The first exhibition occupies the museum’s second-floor galleries, with three separate and distinct areas that highlight the versatility and flexibility of the lamps. One area comprises a floor-to-ceiling Akari cloud, while another includes an eight-foot cube made of thirteen Akari panels. The other exhibition features creations by five separate designers that worked with YMER&MALTA to explore how Naguchi might work with new materials today in order to expand the collection of light sculptures.

Isamu Noguchi working on Akari in Japan, 1968. Image by The Isamu Noguchi Foundation andGarden Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS)

Originally envisioned as a way to integrate art with daily life, Noguchi’s electrified paper, bamboo and metal Akari light sculptures were inspired by the artist’s Japanese roots. In 1951, while on a trip there, the artist was asked by the mayor of Gifu City to help revitalise the local lantern industry by creating a modern lamp for export using the traditional washi paper. Inspired by the lanterns that illuminated night fishing on the Nagara River, Noguchi worked with a local firm to combine the elements of the traditional paper lantern with electricity. He went go on to create more than 200 models of Akari, including an entire line for his exhibition for the American Pavilion at the 1986 Venice Biennale, in the process receiving five American and thirty-one Japanese patents.

edaLight by Benjamin Graindorge as part of the Akari Unfolded exhibition. Image courtesy of YMER&MALTA

“Noguchi’s Akari are among his most iconic and celebrated works, and they are still in production today. This exhibition will explore them through historic and innovative installations, complemented by a trove of archival materials that document the exhibition and promotion of the lanterns from the early 1950s on,” said Noguchi Museum Acting Director Jennifer Lorch.

A selection of Akari from 1953 to 1977. Image courtesy of the Noguchi Museum

More information on the Akari: Sculpture by Other Means and Akari Unfolded: A Collection by YMER&MALTA exhibitions is available at the official Noguchi Museum website.