The Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi made his way back into the spotlight recently, with the addition of one of his sculptures in the Rose Garden at the White House. Meanwhile, here in New York, we can count the loss of another Noguchi work. As of last month, there were only five Isamu Noguchi works that could be visited by the public besides what’s inside the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City. Now, there are only four as the site-specific work inside the lobby at 666 Fifth Avenue has been officially removed.
In late February, we reported that the work, which Noguchi described as “a landscape of clouds,” was at risk. The developer, Brookfield Properties, was embarking on a renovation and planning to complete demolish the lobby. The undulating canopy and walls resulted in a corporate lobby that was quite unique in the city, although it had already undergone significant alteration — the hallway of this lobby was original outdoors, similar to many of the outdoor passages that cut between blocks in Midtown. 666 Fifth Avenue was previously owned by Kushner Properties (you can read more about that period in our previous article).
In February, Brett Littman, the director of the Noguchi Museum stated that “the Museum and its board are working to ensure that the work remains in situ.” That has not come to fruition, although Littman stated in a statement just released today that they have worked with the developers, Brookfield Properties, to properly remove and catalog the work. The Museum is now looking into where they can relocate the Ceiling and Waterfall portion of the work to a new location. The floors are not original, and even the original marble floor that was replaced in 1998 was determined not to be a Noguchi design.
Here is the full statement from Littman:
The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum announces the removal of the site-specific Ceiling and Waterfall for the Lobby of 666 Fifth Avenue (1957) by Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) from that building. Over the course of several weeks in October and November 2020, Ceiling and Waterfall for the Lobby of 666 Fifth Avenue was documented, deinstalled, and catalogued under the oversight of the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum. Brookfield Properties, the owner of the building and the work, covered all associated costs and has donated the components of Noguchi’s installation to the Museum.
Since 2019 the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum and Brookfield Properties have been in discussions about Brookfield’s plans for the lobby and about what impact their planned renovations would have on Noguchi’s work. As stewards of the artist’s legacy, the Museum advocated for the work to remain in the lobby in some form, even if that required some adaptation, and even though it had been compromised by renovations predating Brookfield’s ownership. However, Brookfield Properties, as the owner of the building and the work, elected to exercise its right to remove it.
The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum will now determine whether and how it might be possible to give Ceiling and Waterfall a new life in the public sphere.
Next, check out the other works of Isamu Noguchi in New York City.