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Sculptor Creates Quiet Oasis for New Yorkers - 2004-06-10

For the past 20 years, the works of famed Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi have provided an oasis of tranquility in the heart of one of New York City's busiest industrial areas. Leah Krakinowski recently visited the outdoor sculpture garden and filed this report.

Amid the noise of heavy truck traffic sits the unlikely refuge of the Isamu Noguchi Museum. Located in Long Island City across the East River from Manhattan, the tree-shaded sculpture garden is a little-known haven for the signature works of Isamu Noguchi. Many of his works are simple stone-and-water carvings that embody a spirit of calm.

The tranquil garden and adjoining museum celebrates Mr. Noguchi's lifelong work, which blends Japanese style with modern art. The walled-in garden, with its wooden benches strategically placed underneath leafy Japanese Katsura trees, dulls the clamor of the city streets.

Though known for his sculptures, Mr. Noguchi is also famous for his paper-thin Akari lights and innovative furniture designs. Jenny Dixon, the museum's director, calls his sculptural designs pioneering. ?He ignored the once strict boundaries between art and design and he collaborated with people in many disciplines throughout the world,? she says.

Born in Los Angeles to a Japanese poet and an American writer, Mr. Noguchi lived in Japan until the age of 13. He briefly attended New York's Columbia University, but quickly dropped out to become a full-time sculptor.

Mr. Noguchi is believed to be the only artist in America to found, design and establish a permanent place to display his own works.

The cavernous facility is located in a 1920s photoengraving plant. Its concrete floors and original wood ceilings provide a fitting backdrop to many of Mr. Noguchi's abstract stone, metal and wood sculptures.

The international theatrical director and designer, Robert Wilson, installed the late Mr. Noguchi's sculptural designs. He says Mr. Noguchi's work reflects his broad artistic range.

?I divided the exhibition into three parts,? he notes. ?The first space we have is more theatrical. It is dark and mysterious. And that is counter-pointed against a space that is warm and sunny and bright. And that is contrasted by another space that is gray and calm and more meditative.?

Museum director Jenny Dixon hopes many more visitors will find Noguchi's Museum a peaceful respite. It currently attracts some 200,000 people each year, a small number for one of New York's cultural institutions.

?People can revisit themselves and return to their sense of quiet and be inspired,? she adds. ?There's a sense of looking for the simple, elemental truth in the material, and in that kind of quiet, is where people can find their own sense of peace and inspiration.?

The Noguchi Museum, which has just undergone a multimillion-dollar facelift, is now opened all year round. Before the renovation, the museum had no heat or air-conditioning and suffered from constant flooding from the nearby East River.

When Mr. Noguchi first moved his home and studio to Long Island City in 1961, the area was filled little more than warehouses and auto-mechanic shops.

Since then, several other cultural institutions have moved into the neighborhood, including the Museum for African Art, the Contemporary Art Center, the Sculpture Center and the Socrates Sculpture Park.