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Twentieth Century Visionaries On View in New York


Visionary 20th century designer-inventor Buckminster Fuller and modernist sculptor Isamu Noguchi collaborated to bridge the gap between art and technology to create works that challenged the status quo. A museum in New York City has put on an exhibit dedicated to their remarkable friendship and fruitful collaboration.

Buckminister Fuller never completed a university degree, but became a 20th century icon as a designer, architect, and inventor. He was also a mathematician, engineer and poet. He is perhaps best-known for his work developing geodesic domes: spherical structures without internal supports that enclose far greater interior areas than traditional post-and-beam constructions. Fuller hoped such structures would ease housing shortages.

Isamu Noguchi led a less-public life, experimenting with materials such as stainless steel, bronze, sheet aluminum and even water to create streamlined sculptures, gardens, parks, and set designs.

Shoji Sadao, a business partner to both men, put together an exhibit dedicated to them at the Noguchi Museum in New York. He says Fuller and Noguchi were both independent thinkers who wanted to use their talents to improve lives. "They both wanted to work to better society, Bucky through science and technology and Isamu though his art. Bucky was, I think, concerned more about the physical well-being of people, the standard of living and so forth. Isamu was interested more in the aesthetic and intellectual well-being, psychological. Their common philosophy in terms of very egalitarian point of view, in terms of human kind and bettering mankind's existence on earth is what got them together," he said.

The two men first met in 1929. Fuller had already established himself as a futurist with his 1927 Dymaxion House, an inexpensive, technically advanced house that could be assembled on-site from a kit. Sadao says his early interests in environmental issues, aerodynamics and social well-being set him apart. "At the very beginning many people thought that he was a crank or a nut because some of his ideas seemed to be so outlandish. But he was 50 or 100 years ahead of his times in terms of the concepts or things that he was proposing like the Dymaxion House and the Dymaxion car exhibited here," he said.

"Noguchi was immediately influenced by Fuller's ideas about space and habitat. He sculpted a chrome-plated bronze bust of Fuller in seven sittings, which is on exhibit in the show. In 1932, Fuller asked Noguchi to create a three-dimensional plaster model for his fuel-efficient Dymaxion car."

The two men continued to collaborate throughout their long lives, with Noguchi often creating models of Fuller's ideas. In 1986, three years after Fuller's death and just two years before his own, Noguchi created a monumental, 30-meter sculpture based on Fuller's view that the basic building block of the cosmos was the tetrahedron, a solid having four triangular faces.

"He was experimenting with these kinds of structures and Isamu was very perceptive and he saw the potential of it being a very beautiful piece of sculpture. This is the Challenger monument that was dedicated to the astronauts that perished in the Challenger crash," he said.

The exhibit contains photographs and a model of the Challenger 7 Memorial, which is located in a Miami, Florida park designed by Noguchi and Shoji Sadao.

The exhibit offers a new generation of visitors a chance to become acquainted with the genius of Buckminster Fuller and his vision. Shoji Sadao calls him a true renaissance man. "He was described at one time as even the Leonardo da Vince of the 20th century. His knowledge was broad and expansive and he was very much of a humanitarian too. Very warm, very easy to get to know. He never talked down to anyone, even to young children. He would talk to them as though they were equals and his peers," he said.

Visitors can also see some of the more than 1,000 sculptures that Noguchi completed in his life, which are on view throughout the museum and its garden. The peaceful setting invites visitors to reflect on the creativity and collaboration of two 20th century geniuses.

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