Isamu Noguchi designed a variety of Akari light sculptures over a period of more than forty years. Criticized for “popularizing” his sculpture, Noguchi said it was a way for people who were not wealthy to buy his work and light their houses at the same time. These lanterns transgress the limits of sculpture by mixing art and use.
In 1994, we were asked to design a travelling installation for these lamps. The first exhibition was held at the Gallery at Takashimaya in New York.
We designed a series of transparent fiberglass screens—half of them amber, half of them blue. Each screen was made from three bent panels that were held together with an aluminum rod, wooden peg, and rubber grommet. The connecting detail was simple so the screens could be assembled in minutes.
We chose to emphasize the power of slow discovery in this exhibition.
A long, shallow trough filled with obsidian pebbles leads visitors into the exhibit. It also hides the wiring for the lamps. Beautiful in their packing state, the flattened lanterns were displayed against a tar paper background. The fiberglass screens shape the space and create a path through the exhibit, while providing a backdrop as well as a mask for the lanterns.
At first, visitors only see the illuminated shape of the Akari through the fiberglass screens. The different-colored screens produce different effects: blue shields the light, while the amber projects a fiery glow. Moving through the exhibition, the lanterns are gradually revealed. Quiet light illuminates the serene space.