That, anyway, is what Isamu Noguchi said late in life. "What other reason is there for art?"*
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden's gift to us this fall is an installation of the sculptor's works on loan from The Noguchi Museum in Long Island City. A few days ago, on my birthday, we wandered the BBG's Japanese Garden--itself a work of living art--to see some of them. A drenching rain had broken weeks of drought; the sky was still turbulent-looking, and everything smelled faintly of something like jasmine. Downed leaves floated across the pond.
I confess that Noguchi's strange, simple shapes leave me more puzzled than dazzled, but I enjoyed seeing them, with some knowledgeable commentary by the Garden's own guides. This one, "Strange Bird," dwells near the "turtle island" and is a sly reference to a pair of bronze cranes that have been in and out (currently out) of the Japanese Garden over the years.
The Daughter was reminded of the Dodo in Looney Tunes' "WackyLand" (itself a goof on modern art). Apparently Noguchi, a Japanese-American who died in 1988 at age 84, considered himself rather a strange bird, a global citizen (and longtime New Yorker) yet one who never fully resolved his identity.
The sculptures are right at home in the Japanese Garden, with its design magic of "hide and reveal" and its illusion of deep vistas and distances. You spy "Mountains Forming" (1982-3) from afar, tucked out of reach above the waterfalls.
Once you climb up to the Shinto shrine--itself a hidden treasure--you see it more clearly, but it's still tantalizingly out of reach. It also looks completely different--"another layer in this imaginary mountain landscape," says curator Dakin Hart of the Noguchi Museum.
My problem with outdoor sculpture in natural surroundings is that the exquisite forms of trees, leaves, and clouds, and even raindrops, tend to overwhelm the human creations. But then, Noguchi did once say that everything is sculpture. Except, perhaps, the apartment buildings that rise beyond the garden's perimeter.
*From Listening to Stone: The Art and Life of Isamu Noguchi, by Hayden Herrera, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.