Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Noguchi's Earthworks

(Photo from Noguchi Museum website)
17 years ago, a Catholic magazine asked me to do an article about Isumu Noguchi, who had just died. It seems that he was a Catholic, but didn't want a big deal made of it. As a matter of fact, he never identified himself as such in interviews. It was an interesting assignment, and I came through, using whatever evidence I could find to fit him into that context. But it left me with an odd taste in my mouth. Did I dishonor him? How much control do we have over our life stories?
I thought about him today as I was reading a story about Michael Heizer's "City"-, a mile plus by a quarter mile piece that he's constructing in Nevada. Noguchi, I thought, had a piece bigger than that that was never built. It's worth revisiting.
It was called "Monument to the Plough" and was supposed to be erected in the geographical center of the nation as a paen to those laborers/farmers who created their culture as they moved across the country. After all, it was 1933, and a time for recognition of such everyday heroes. (He also proposed a monument to Carl Mackey, the labor leader at this time.) According to Noguchi's own words, "My model indicated my wish to belong to America, to its vast horizons of earth."
Today, it's considered a forerunner to the Earthworks movement. Interestingly enough, it was a forerunner of his hugely pessimistic design in 1947 for a piece called "Sculpture to be seen from Mars", which was supposed to be large enough to be seen from outer space as an indicator to other planets that sentient beings had once lived here. He felt that with the dawn of the atomic age, it was only a matter of time until we blew ourselves to kingdom come. As a matter of fact, it was originally known as "Memorial to Man".
It's over 50 years later, and we haven't needed the Mars piece, but it might not be a bad time to think about creating it!
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