The Frye Art Museum is presenting Isamu Noguchi and Qi Baishi: Beijing 1930, an exploration of artistic and intellectual exchanges between American sculptor, landscape architect, and furniture designer Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) and Qi Baishi (1864–1957), now considered one of the most important Chinese artists of the twentieth century.
The work of Noguchi has long been associated with Japan. Indeed his introduction to ancient sculpture and garden design traditions during a stay in Japan in 1931 is thought of as a turning point in his early career. Less well known is the story of Noguchi’s six transformative months in Beijing from July 1930 to January 1931. There, Sotokichi Katsuizumi (1889–1985), a Japanese businessman and collector of Chinese painting, introduced him to Qi Baishi. Noguchi spoke no Chinese and Qi no English, but they quickly formed a friendship and Noguchi began to study with the master ink painter.
Under Qi’s influence, Noguchi took up brush, ink, and paper—the key tools of East Asian traditional painting and calligraphy—to create the series of more than one hundred works later called the “Peking Drawings.” Seen together as a group and alongside examples of Qi’s paintings—as they are for the first time in this exhibition—these impressive works suggest the importance of China in Noguchi’s artistic formation, usually eclipsed by his relationship to Japan.
In fact, the often-overlooked “Peking Drawings” acted as a laboratory in which Noguchi discovered a language of abstraction that informed his entire career. Isamu Noguchi and Qi Baishi: Beijing 1930 was organized by the University of Michigan Museum of Art in collaboration with The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York, and consultant Alexandra May. The seeds of the exhibition were found in a group of ten works by Qi Baishi and Isamu Noguchi donated by Sotokichi Katsuizumi, a UM alumnus, to the University of Michigan Museum of Art in 1949. These are complemented by loans from the Noguchi Museum and important public and private collections in the United States. The exhibition features 31 works by Noguchi and 25 works by Qi Bashi, and also includes Noguchi’s ink brushes, the seal carved and presented to him by Qi, and materials from Katsuizumi’s archive.
Isamu Noguchi and Qi Baishi: Beijing 1930 is organized by the University of Michigan Museum of Art in collaboration with The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York. Lead support for this exhibition is provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional generous support is provided by the University of Michigan Center for Chinese Studies, Confucius Institute, and the Blakemore Foundation. The exhibition at the Frye Art Museum is made possible through the Frye Foundation with generous support of Frye Art Museum members and donors. It is sponsored by 4Culture, Washington State Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Seasonal support is provided by the Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs and ArtsFund.
Isamu Noguchi and Qi Baishi: Beijing 1930 February 22 – May 25, 2014 Frye Art Museum Seattle, Washington