Black Sun

Noguchi in Seattle

In 1967 Seattle was one of three cities to be awarded a grant by The National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities in the amount of $45,000 to go towards a public sculpture. Seattle was paired with the artist Isamu Noguchi who visited the city in the spring to scout a location—arriving at Volunteer Park in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Noguchi envisioned creating a fluid and timeless work that would appear to move as the sun does, creating a kind of dialogue between the real sun and the artwork itself…Black Sun reflects the artist’s interest in circular shapes and in outdoor environments for sculpture. Noguchi rendered the stone to echo the organic forms found in nature.
—City of Seattle


Isamu Noguchi's 'Black Sun' in Volunteer Park. Photo by Alan Cordova


The sculpture intended for the spot was initially 30 inches in diameter but after visiting the site, Noguchi proposed two alternate and larger scale versions. Increasing the scale also meant increasing the budget and The Seattle Art Museum, directed by Dr. Richard Fuller at the time, was able to match the funds of the grant to make a 9-foot sculpture a reality. 

Black Sun was carved in Japan from a ten-by-ten-foot block of black granite sourced from Brazil. Noguchi teamed with the stonecutter, Masatoshi Izumi; it took eleven stonecutters eight months to complete the sculpture and in 1969 it traveled overseas to the United States.

The present lot is a maquette made in an edition of fifty-seven in 1971. Noguchi gifted eight of these examples to people who helped support the realization of the project; the remaining examples were sold in The Seattle Art Museum's gift shop to help fund the museum.

Isamu Noguchi 1904–1988

Isamu Noguchi was the son of Yone Noguchi, a Japanese poet, and Léonie Gilmour, an American writer. He was born in Los Angeles in 1904 but lived in Japan from the age of two until 1918 when he returned to the United States to attend school in Indiana. In 1922 Noguchi moved to New York to study pre-medicine at Columbia University. He also took night courses in sculpture with Onorio Ruotolo and soon after, he left Columbia in pursuit of a career in the arts.

In 1927 Noguchi received a Guggenheim Fellowship for a trip to Paris and the Far East. For six months in Paris, he worked in the studio of Constantin Brancusi and his own work became more abstract as Noguchi explored working with stone, wood and sheet metal. Noguchi returned to New York and in 1929 he met R. Buckminster Fuller and Martha Graham, colleagues and friends with whom he would later collaborate. In 1938 Noguchi was commissioned to complete a work for the Associated Press building in the Rockefeller Center in New York. Marking his first public sculpture, this work garnered attention and recognition for the artist in the United States.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Noguchi became politically involved. He started Nisei Writers and Artists Mobilization for Democracy, a group dedicated to raising awareness of the patriotism of Japanese Americans, and he volunteered to be placed in an Arizona internment camp where he resided for seven months. Following the war, he spent time in Japan exploring the issues highlighted by the conflict of war; the experiences culminating in sculptural works that were included in the exhibition Fourteen Americans hosted by the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1946.

Noguchi traveled throughout his lifetime and was inspired by experiences, artists and techniques around the world. Never confined by material or a particular movement, Noguchi’s aesthetic accomplishments covered a broad range including sculpture, furniture and lighting design, parks, gardens, theater and more. His first retrospective was held at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1968. He received multiple accolades and awards during his lifetime and in 1986 he represented the United States at the Venice Biennale. A testament to his commitment to public spaces, in 1985 Noguchi opened The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum in Long Island City, New York (now known as The Noguchi Museum) and today his legacy lives on through the museum’s work. Noguchi died in 1988 at the age of eighty-four.