Isamu Noguchi’s Modernism: Negotiating Race, Labor, and Nation, 1930–1950

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9780520253148: Isamu Noguchi’s Modernism: Negotiating Race, Labor, and Nation, 1930–1950

Exploring the complex interweaving of race, national identity, and the practice of sculpture, Amy Lyford takes us through a close examination of the early US career of the Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988). The years between 1930 and 1950 were perhaps some of the most fertile of Noguchi’s career. Yet the work that he produced during this time has received little sustained attention.

Weaving together new archival material, little-known or unrealized works, and those that are familiar, Lyford offers a fresh perspective on the significance of Noguchi’s modernist sculpture to twentieth-century culture and art history. Through an examination of his work, this book tells a story about his relation to the most important cultural and political issues of his time.

By focusing on Noguchi’s reputation, and reception as an artist of Japanese American descent, Lyford analyzes the artist and his work within the context of a burgeoning desire at that time to define what modern American art might be--and confront unspoken assumptions that linked whiteness to Americanness. Lyford reveals how that reputation was both shaped by and helped define ideas about race, labor and national identity in twentieth-century American culture.

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[Negotiating Race and Nation] breaks new ground in our understanding of Noguchi’s constructed identity and career. [Lyford’s] account is lively, vivid, and engaging. [Her] scholarship and analysis are impressive in their breadth and depth. Presenting new material as well as contributing to our understanding of familiar material, it addresses a broad audience of scholars and students in the fields of modern art history, Asian-American studies, race and ethnicity, Orientalism, and identity construction.” Joseph Henning, author of Outposts of Civilization: Race, Religion and the Formative Years of American-Japanese Relations

While there is general consensus that Noguchi is a pivotal figure in twentieth century America, when it comes to an analysis of his artistic significance, his biography has often played an overriding role in explaining the meaning of his art and his importance as a sculptor. Lyford accurately assesses this conundrum and locates this problem in matters of race and nation.” Her work is well-conceived and organized, and written with precision and elegance. It illuminates aspects of twentieth century American artistic modernism in a nuanced and convincing fashion.” Karin Higa, Japanese American National Museum

About the Author:

Amy Lyford is Professor of Art History at Occidental College and is the author of Surrealist Masculinities: Gender Anxiety and the Aesthetics of Post–World War I Reconstruction in France (UC Press, 2007).

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