The Little Walking Box
An Important Sculpture by Isamu Noguchi
In September of 1952, The Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura hosted a major exhibition of Isamu Noguchi’s ceramic sculptures and lighting. Earlier in the year, Noguchi and his new bride, actress Yoshiko Yamaguchi, had taken up residence in Kamakura in a farmhouse owned by the noted ceramicist Kitaoji Rosanjin. Noguchi established a studio and had access to Rosanjin’s kilns; the exhibition at the museum was the result of the year’s production and illustrated the multitude of influences that Noguchi was able to so gracefully unite in his exquisite forms.
The present lot, Little Walking Box—Arukidaso kobako—was among the works on display in this important show. Hand-crafted in Shigaraki stoneware, a clay found in the Kamakura region and dating as far back as 1192-1333, the expressive form is reminiscent of Japanese stone lamps called Ishidoro found initially in temples and shrines, but later in gardens, along pathways and near home entrances. Taking cues from traditional stone lantern designs, Noguchi’s Little Walking Box has windows on all four sides representing the sun, moon and stars.
Noguchi’s exploration of traditional lighting forms may be further explained by his collaboration with Ozeki Jishichi Shoten (later Ozeki and Co. Ltd.). The year prior, Noguchi had traveled to Gifu to visit the firm’s factory and had begun designing his Akari light sculptures, the first of which were produced and made available in Japan early in 1952. The logo that Noguchi devised for the Akari was a stylized sun and crescent moon, like the one found on the side of this sculpture.
However, unlike the Akari, the Little Walking Box is not a functional object. While drawing inspiration from the land and its traditions, it is completely modern and abstract in execution. The form has been simplified through the exclusion of a roof-like element and sits playfully on wooden legs, which are acknowledged in the work’s title, as we imagine the box to literally walk on its stick legs.
This spirit of personification and play similarly appear in other stoneware works made by Noguchi during this period of his career, and indeed recur throughout his entire oeuvre. Shown alongside Little Walking Box at The Museum of Modern Art at Kamakura, Big Boy and Even the Centipede both exhibit distinct and lively personalities rendered with an economy of materials and shapes. Both works today reside in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York.
After the exhibition in Kamakura, Eleanor Ward, the proprietor of Stable Gallery, showed Noguchi’s ceramic works in New York City. She hosted the 1954 exhibition Noguchi Terracottas: Japan 1931, 50, 51, 52, 53. It is through Ward that the present lot came to The Arts Club of Chicago the following year, where it was included in Noguchi: Sculpture and Scroll Drawings exhibition. It is believed that it was through this exhibition that the work came into the possession of Arts Club member and patron Leonore Grace Smith Jerrems Molloy.