Museum of Stones
Wednesday, October 7, 2015 - Sunday, January 10, 2016
Think of a circumstance in which rock and water rub up against each other: in a river gorge, along a coast, where a gutter empties onto a flagstone or rain falls regularly on a soft stone wall. At any given moment, rock is the sculptor and water is the material. Expand the timeline a bit, however, and the relationship reverses; water becomes the sculptor and rock the material. A creative awareness of this paradox, as refracted through a kaleidoscope of different cultural traditions, is The Noguchi Museum in a nutshell.
This reciprocal relationship between water and stone is one of a pile of material, allegorical, literary, scientific, metaphorical, artistic, structural, and cultural contexts in which stone operated in Noguchi’s imagination and as a touchstone for his work. The rock with which David killed Goliath; Scylla and Charybdis, the proverbial rock and a hard place; the Latin word calculus, which means both to figure and pebble and thus spans mathematics from its most basic to its most sophisticated; the walls that separate my things from your things all over the planet; the glacial erratics and other natural “miracles” that helped inspire the systematic approach to inquiry that became the scientific method; standing stones, humanity’s earliest attempts to dominate nature and explain existence, and the memorials by which we try to deny the insignificance of a biological lifespan on a geologic timescale. These points of reference frame all of the works in the exhibition.
Museum of Stones grew initially out of the artist Jimmie Durham’s critique of sculpture and architecture as stone denaturing regimes that advance the Western European notion that rock exists for us to use in establishing impenetrable bulwarks against time, nature and each other. Much of Durham’s work aims to restore to stone some of the capriciousness, liveliness, transience and impressionability it exhibits in nature. The exhibition is an attempt to fuse Durham’s critique with an appreciation for the ways in which rock and stone act as barometers of civilization and its disconnects. Noguchi believed, as the Japanese tend to, that rock and stone have a lifecycle they should be allowed to experience in full, but he also recognized rock and stone as the seminal raw materials of technology and believed in their use.
Noguchi learned to square a block of marble—and then to transform it into an abstract icon of Modernism—from Constantin Brancusi, the high priest of command and control carving, and he ended his career, at least in one of his modes, as something closer to a process artist: not conjuring images from stone but exploring materials, often through processes at some remove from his own hand. It’s not that he gave one approach up for another so much as that he allowed different paradigms to accumulate, complicating his thinking and his work, over time.
His ambivalence is encompassed by one definition of the semantic difference between rock and stone: nature makes rocks; we make stones. If all goes to plan, the exhibition will create a series of boundary layers in which rocks and stones become difficult to differentiate from each other.
Museum of Stones is the first exhibition in the Museum’s history to insert the work of contemporary artists into the original Noguchi installation. The exhibition will include approximately fifty works by approximately thirty artists, installed throughout the Museum. Artists include Mel Bochner, Janine Antoni, Dove Bradshaw, Bosco Sodi, Keith Sonnier, Scott Burton, Lawrence Weiner, Toshiko Takaezu, Jochen Gerz, Stephanie Syjuco, the makers of the ancient fortification wall of Jerusalem, and Jimmie Durham. It will also feature an installation of fifteen Chinese rock-related objects on loan from The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Image: Isamu Noguchi in his Long Island City studio with Hakuin, Mannari granite, 1965-66.