Soo Last Century, Soo Good: Noguchi

Posted on Friday September 16, 2011

Exiting MoMA PS1 with a slight feeling of having been cheated, I’m tossing up a visit to the Noguchi Museum. On The Lonely Planet map it’s only a few centimeters from where I’m standing, but I can’t see it. Maybe the map needs to be biggened up, to give me a better idea of how far. Anyway, my legs are feeling long and the walk will clear the video fog from my brain.

The roads keep going, and so do I, hoping the GPS’s ‘low battery’ warning goes away. Noo Yorkers would call some of the neighborhoods I pass through, ‘sketchy’. That’s ‘stick a sharpened pencil up my ass and draw blood’ sketchy. I try to look as black and dangerous as I can. I fail abysmally, but figure the sight of a person walking here will convince onlookers that I’m crazy and hence, possibly dangerous. Down towards the river, near where the GPS is showing the welcome checkered flag, there’s a whole Latino community enjoying a Sunday afternoon barbie in the park.

And so is the Noguchi Museum, with its high walls of grey concrete block enclosing a simple building and a sculpture garden. Inside there’s a large collection of his works, from deceptively simple standing stones with just a few comb-chisel marks showing the maker’s hand, to spare compositions of poles and clothing created for stage sets, assemblages of shaped stones, even bronzes that look cut from stone.

Green Essence: Falling and standing at the same time

Almost every work has a Japanese spareness about it: when an essence is captured, what more needs to be said? Almost every work, but not all; his licorice allsort-like pieces shaped from alternating layers of colored stone – pink, white, black – have an 80s hotel foyer aesthetic. Outside, in the garden, pieces sit quietly, Zenning me to stillness.

Stillness in the garden

The overall effect is both calming and uplifting, not just because of the works’ quiet power (there’s a feeling that at night, when all we visitors have left, the works let out a held breath and  begin walking around the gallery, chatting, like the dinosaurs in Night At The Museum), but because the artist’s ego doesn’t intrude. There’s no ‘look how clever I am!’. No ‘this work is so obtuse it must be the Next Big Thing’. No Emperor’s New Clothes. When you speak a truth like Noguchi does, people don’t need to be told to believe.

By now, the rain’s dotting the museum’s windows. If it was a long walk here, it’ll be a longer walk back. The GPS is dead, and the map’s soggy. But it’s enough to show me where Less Mean Street is*, and I’m striding the pavement again, past more chain link fences and rundown garages.

(* Parallel to Mean Street, but two blocks closer to the river)

Fifty years of dependable service: Garage door, Queens

The light rain is keeping everyone else indoors. Turn up this street and I should hit Jackson Avenue again, and yay! the lamb is found. I shall no more stray in the wilderness. At least, not until I hit the streets of downtown Brooklyn again, where the rain, now quite heavy, has brought out the odd crazy. I’ve joined them.