Akari Light Sculptures

The Akari Light Sculptures of Isamu Noguchi


One of the most important artists of the twentieth century, Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) expanded the traditional notion of sculpture to include the creation of dance sets, gardens, playgrounds, fountains and furniture. Within this range of spatial environment Isamu Noguchi's Akari lanterns hold a unique place, expressing his Japanese's American heritage in works designed to enhance the quality everyday life.

Isamu Noguchi was the son of an American mother, Leonie Gilmour, and a Japanese father, poet Yone Noguchi. Born in Los Angeles, Noguchi spent his childhood in Japan before returning to the United States for his education. As a young man he traveled to Paris to work with sculptor Constantin Brancusi, and he went on to develop his own unique career as an artist in New York.

After visiting Japan in 1931 Noguchi began to integrate elements of Japanese art with Western modernism. Throughout the 1950s Noguchi spent a great deal of time in Japan, embracing Japanese forms for the design of gardens and sculpture.

Akari, a term meaning light as illumination, but also implying the idea of weightlessness.

In 1951 Isamu Noguchi visited the Japanese town of Gifu, know for its manufacture of lanterns and umbrellas from the mulberry bark paper and bamboo. Inspired by the lanterns illuminating night fishing on the Nagara River, Noguchi designed the first of his lamps that would be produced by the traditional Gifu methods of construction. He called these works Akari, a term meaning light as illumination, but also implying the idea of weightlessness. Extending the concept of illuminated sculpture that he developed during the 1940s in New York, Noguchi employed abstract shapes to unite the simplicity of Japanese aesthetics with the principles of contemporary art and design. More than home furnishings, Akari are light sculptures.

"All that you require to start a home are a room, a tatami, and Akari."

With the warm glow of light cast through hand-made paper on a bamboo frame, Isamu Noguchi utilized traditional Japanese materials to bring modern design to the home. Like the beauty of falling leaves and the cherry blossom, Noguchi wrote, Akari are "poetic, ephemeral, and tentative." And he was fond of saying, "All that you require to start a home are a room, a tatami, and Akari. "

The Making of Akari Light Sculpture

The fabrication of Akari in Japan at Ozeki Company since 1951 follows the traditional methods for Japanese Gifu lanterns. Each Akari is hand crafted beginning with the making of washi paper from the inner bark of the mulberry tree. Bamboo ribbing is stretched across wooden molded forms, which resembles sculpture.

The washi paper is cut into wide or narrow strips depending upon the size and shape of the lamp and then glued onto both sides of the framework. Once the glue has dried and the shape is set the internal wooden form is disassembled and removed. The outcome is a resilient paper form, which can be collapsed and packed flat for shipping. The Akari package includes Noguchi's patented metal wire stretcher and support system.