- Changing and Unchanging Things: Noguchi and Hasegawa in Postwar Japan by Dakin Hart and Mark Dean Johnson
In the 1950s, artists on both sides of the Pacific confronted new realities of the atomic age. Searching for primal forms of expression, many experimented with materials in ways that pushed the limits of abstraction and emphasized the individual, physical act of creation. While abstract expressionism and the New York School grew in prominence in the United States, in Japan groups emerged such as Jikken Kōbō (Experimental Workshop), Nihon Abusutorakuto Āto Kurabu (Japanese Abstract Art Club), Gutai Bijutsu Kyōkai (Concrete Art Society), and, later, Tokyo Fluxus. In the early phase of the cold war alliance between Japan and the United States, American artists, designers, arts professionals, and the general public became newly enthralled with historical forms of Japanese art and architecture. During and after the Allied occupation, the infiltration of American culture in Japan extended to exhibitions and publications circulating the latest in avantgarde American painting and sculpture. Artists and their work traveled across continents, and vigorous debates arose concerning the definitions of and relationships between national aesthetics, tradition, and modernity. Two artists whose discourse of the 1950s presents a compelling case study with which to unravel this complex history are Japanese American sculptor and designer Isamu Noguchi (1904–88) and Japanese painter and writer Hasegawa Saburō (1906–57).
Changing and Unchanging Things: Noguchi and Hasegawa in Postwar Japan concerns the parallel interests and artistic pursuits of the two men, from their first meeting in the spring of 1950 until Hasegawa's death in 1957. It is a richly illustrated and artfully designed catalogue for a major traveling exhibition of the same name organized by the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum. In 2019, the exhibition traveled to the Yokohama Museum of Art in Japan, the Noguchi Museum in New York, and the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. The book features seven essays by modern art curators and scholars based in the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom: Dakin Hart (senior curator, The Noguchi Museum), Mark Dean Johnson (professor of art, San Francisco State University), Kawasaki Koichi (creative media studies professor, Konan Women's University), Matthew Kirsch (curator of research and online content, The Noguchi Museum), Nakamori Yasufumi (senior curator of international art [photography], Tate [End Page 540] Modern), Nakamura Naoaki (senior curator, Yokohama Museum of Art), and Bert Winther-Tamaki (professor of art history, University of California, Irvine).
Along with 95 color plates of artworks, a chronology, and two short reflections by Noguchi and Hasegawa about each other, the essays in this volume provide means to imagine, as the front and end pages illustrate, the two friends in lively dialogue. In the spring of 1950, Hasegawa, familiar with Noguchi's work, was funded by the Mainichi shinbun to guide Noguchi on a two-week trip to visit temples, gardens, and more in Kyoto, Nara, and Ise. Noguchi was beginning a four-month sojourn in Japan after a 19-year absence from the country. The two would go on to travel more together and meet regularly in 1952, when Noguchi lived in Kita Kamakura, not far from Hasegawa in Chigasaki. Changing and Unchanging Things uncovers how they saw East Asian cultural heritage as an artistic smorgasbord from which to collect creative inspiration relevant to modern art expression in Japan and the United States. They looked to sources as diverse as the Dao De Jing, haniwa, haiku, chanoyu, Zen, and Sesshū Tōyō's paintings to inform their art's conceptual and visual grounding. The book illustrates how, for example, an aluminum sculpture, an abstract ink painting, or a design for a memorial could be seen to epitomize postwar formal abstraction while at the same time referencing a variety of premodern East Asian sources. We learn that Hasegawa and Noguchi shared an appreciation for how arts of the past spoke to modern universal values and how Japanese tradition...