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Nov 24 2020

Work by Asian American Artist Enters White House Collection For the First Time

by Ruby Fung

ISAMU NOGUCHI’s Floor Frame, 1962, at the Rose Garden, the White House, Washington D.C. Image via Facebook.

A minimalist sculptural work by the late Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) became the first artwork by an Asian-American artist to be added to the United States’ White House Collection, according to an official statement on November 20. The work is installed at the newly restored Rose Garden, which borders the Oval Office and the West Wing of the White House.

Acquired at Sotheby’s New York Contemporary Art Sale in March by the White House Historical Association and subsequently gifted to the White House, Floor Frame (1962) features an geometric work comprised of two bronze casts coated with black patina that constructs a roughly one meter by 75cm space. The pieces, though separated from each other, are placed in relation to each other as if a complete frame has partly sunk into and merges with the floor. Noguchi once stated that the work “seemed to best define the essentiality of floor, not as sculpture alone but as part of the concept of floor,” and that he viewed it as the intersection of a tree and the ground, with the work implying the existence of roots. 

The way in which Floor Frame interacts with its environment is central to Noguchi’s philosophy. The acclaimed Los Angeles-born artist, who spent his childhood in Japan, believed that art is inseparable from daily life, shown via the timelessness and theatricality of his sculptures. Some of his other notable public art include sculptures such as Red Cube (1968) in Broadway, Lower Manhattan, and Black Sun (1969) in Washington’s Volunteer Park, Seattle. In 1985, he designed New York’s Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum, which houses an extensive collection of his works. The industrial design of the red-brick building and the rustic sculpture garden considered not only the practical installation of the works but also incorporated the former factory site’s history by retaining the exposed steel and wood beams. Though his works are not immediately political, he was also dedicated to promoting artistic exchanges between Japan and the US, such as the establishment of the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum Japan in 1999 as an extension of his New York museum.

The White House Historical Association was established in 1961 by Jacqueline Kennedy during president John F. Kennedy’s administration to help the White House collect and display American art and culture. The White House Collection currently holds around 65,000 objects, 500 of which are paintings, and features mostly historical portraits of key American leaders as well as gifted decorative objects.

Ruby Fung is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.

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