Isamu Noguchi’s Ethereal Akari Light Sculptures Touch Down in NYC

© The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS).

With two complementary exhibitions, New York’s Noguchi Museum pays tribute to the legendary Japanese-American artist’s innovative lanterns.

One of the most influential artists of 20th century, the Japanese-American sculptor and landscape architect Isamu Noguchi was widely known for his inventive and diverse body of work—from home furniture (like his 1947 Noguchi table, which was sold by Herman Miller) to public sculptures and gardens in cities like New York and Paris.

This February, New York’s Noguchi Museum will pay homage to one particular strain of the artist’s iconic designs: his Akari light sculptures, or collapsible lanterns made of paper, bamboo, and metal.


Akari on display in a retail store in Japan, c.1970s. Michio Noguchi. © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS)

Starting February 28, the museum will host two complementary exhibitions. The first, Akari: Sculpture by Other Means, will include approximately 60 of Noguchi’s lanterns (including 40 individual models), plus archival materials like vintage photographs, advertisements, and brochures; the second, Akari Unfolded: A Collection by YMER&MALTA, will include 29 Akari-inspired lamp designs created by the French design studio. In conversation, the exhibits explore the lanterns’ history, as well as their continued influence on designers.


Isamu Noguchi at Ozeki Factory, Japan, c.1970s. Michio Noguchi. © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS).Caption

Noguchi first conceptualized the Akari sculptures in 1951 during a trip to Japan: the mayor of Gifu City, the capital of the country’s Gifu Prefecture, commissioned him to help revitalize the local lantern industry by creating a modern lamp using traditional washi paper. After working with a local Japanese firm on how best to construct a paper lantern lit by electricity, Noguchi went on to create more than 200 Akari models, including a line for his exhibition at the 1986 Venice Biennale.

Akari: Sculpture by Other Means and Akari Unfolded: A Collection by YMER&MALTA will be on view from February 28 to January 27, 2019; noguchi.org