New York (September 13, 2023) — On the evening of September 12, 2023, The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum hosted its annual benefit gala and presented the Isamu Noguchi Award at The Noguchi Museum in Long Island City. A living artist established, designed, and installed this museum, making it the first of its kind in the United States to showcase their own work.
The Isamu Noguchi Award recognizes accomplished individuals who embody Noguchi's spirit of innovation and unwavering commitment to creativity. Awarded yearly, it showcases how Noguchi's ideals persist in contemporary culture, embodied by the honorees' work.
The annual benefit gala unfolds as a convergence of a multidisciplinary art and design commu nity. The evening started with cocktails in the outdoor sculpture garden, the central gathering area, allowing guests to mingle. The garden was lit with the soft radiance of Noguchi's Akari light sculptures among the katsura tree canopy. The ceremony began with welcome remarks from Noguchi Museum Board Co-Chair Susan Kessler, followed by introductions of the honorees by Board Co-Chair Spencer Bailey, who presented each honoree their award after a series of short films created specifically for this occasion by Ager Meillier Films.
Interim Director Jennifer Lorch gave closing remarks before guests moved to the second floor galleries to enjoy dinner by BITE. Eriko Nagata's floral designs featured sculptural, seasonal branches in warm, neutral tones like ivory, orange, and dark gold. These arrangements were showcased beneath suspended Akari pendants, creating an elegant visual ambiance. Co-Chairs for the Benefit are Noguchi Museum Board Co-Chair Spencer Bailey and Emma Bowen, Noguchi Museum trustee Ed Tang and John Auerbach, and Jay Jopling and Hikari Yokoyama.
Distinguished guests included Ambassador Mikio Mori, Consul-General of Japan in New York, and NYC Council Member Tiffany Cabán. Also in attendance were the 2021 Isamu Noguchi Award honoree Toshiko Mori, artist Glenn Ligon, and designer Jason Wu. The event enjoyed leadership support from Fiona and Stanley Druckenmiller, Gagosian, Agnes Gund, and White Cube.
Honoree tribute videos by Ager Meillier Films. Dinner by BITE. Floral design by Eriko Nagata, EriN Design INTL. Event photography by Eva Deitch and Julie Skarratt. Invitation design by Yeju Choi.
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Established in 2014, The Isamu Noguchi Award annually celebrates accomplished individuals embodying Noguchi's innovation, imagination, and unwavering creativity. The Award celebrates individuals from around the world, across various disciplines, whose works demonstrate the highest level of artistic integrity marked by fearless experimentation and a preoccupation with cross-cultural dialogue and exchange. The Award honors creatives whose work exhibits qualities of artistic excellence shared with Noguchi. It also recognizes work that carries significant social consciousness and function.
Edmund de Waal is an English artist and writer recognized widely for his large-scale installations of porcelain vessels. Much of his work is about the contingency of memory: bringing particular histories of loss and exile into renewed life. Both his artistic and writing practice have broken new ground through their critical engagement with the history and potential of ceramics, as well as with architecture, music, dance, and poetry. De Waal uses his early training in Japanese ceramics to incorporate themes of diaspora, memorial, and materiality with his interventions and artwork. He shares Noguchi's faith in "the space around an object, or in non-material things," creating architectural interventions and site-specific installations that respond to particular environments. Also an acclaimed writer, de Waal is best known for his Edmund de Waal.
"I'm truly honored to be receiving the Isamu Noguchi Award. "Noguchi has been a constant presence in my life," says Edmund de Waal, reflecting on his journey to Japan. He visited the places where Noguchi worked, feeling like he walked in the artist's footsteps. His relationship with the materials of clay and stone and his sense of place have informed and delighted me. Noguchi's encounters with traditional skills were respectful: he took them seriously enough to change and renew them with vigor. I am a potter, I work with the oldest craft in the world and I try to renew my art in a similar way."
Theaster Gates is an American, Chicago-based contemporary artist and social innovator focusing on space theory, land development, sculpture and performance. Gates has been a pioneer in the field of social practice, combining strategies of urban planning, object making, and performance. His work exemplifies Noguchi's belief that the purpose of art is to make us more human. In establishing the Rebuild Foundation — a community-based non-profit for art, cultural development, and neighborhood transformation — he has created a platform to promote other artists and foster community revitalization.
"The Isamu Noguchi award is one of the highest honors I could receive," says Theaster Gates. "The complexity and purity of Noguchi's practice, and the ambition of his public works, has always been true north for me. The philosophies, traditions and ways of working that underpin Noguchi's practice continue to act as pillars and anchors of truth for me. I am humbled to receive this recognition and to be recognized amongst my colleagues Hanya Yanagihara and Edmund de Waal."
Hanya Yanagihara is an American, New York-based novelist, editor, and writer. The author of three novels, Yanagihara's work tackles topics that are complicated at times, dealing with reckonings that make us human. Her writing is suffused with rich descriptions that showcase her curiosity for culture. In her current role as the longstanding editor in chief of T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Yanagihara has produced prolific issues rooted in global perspectives of art history, fashion, design, craft, and travel. Echoing Noguchi — who believed in the power of the written word and continuously returned to his travels and particular places in time for inspiration and guidance — Yanagihara's work reflects a kaleidoscopic perspective.
"It's a profound honor to receive this Award, particularly as I've long been inspired by Noguchi's work as both an artist and a politically engaged citizen," says Hanya Yanagihara. ""I've always admired his dedication to craft, tied to a strong sense of cultural and personal responsibility, with tangible consequences." East Coast Japanese American, exempt from Executive Order 9066, which interned 120,000 Japanese Americans, including citizens.
Nevertheless, in 1942, he voluntarily entered one of those camps, Poston, driven by the idealistic goal of fostering a more humane environment. For more on The Noguchi Museum and the 2023 Isamu Noguchi Award and Benefit, visit noguchi.org/award and follow @noguchimuseum on Instagram.
The category-defying artist Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) founded The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum (now known as The Noguchi Museum) in 1985. It became the first museum in the United States where a living artist established, designed, and installed the museum to showcase their own work. Situated in Long Island City, Queens, many consider the Museum itself to be one of the artist's greatest achievements. Holding the world's largest collection of Noguchi's works, it features open air and indoor galleries in a repurposed 1920s industrial building and an outdoor sculpture garden.
Accompanying the permanent installations placed by Noguchi, the Museum presents temporary exhibitions exploring themes in Noguchi's work, his milieu and collaborators, and his enduring influence today among contemporary practitioners across disciplines. It exhibits a comprehensive selection of Noguchi's material culture, from sculpture, models, and drawings to his personal possessions, and manages the artist's archives and catalogue raisonné. Through its rich collection, exhibitions, and programming, the Museum facilitates scholarship and learning for audiences of all ages and backgrounds. noguchi.org | @noguchimuseum
The internationally acclaimed artist and writer, Edmund de Waal (b. 1964, Nottingham), is renowned for his creation of large-scale installations of porcelain vessels. He often responds to collections, archives, or the history of specific places. He designed interventions in various global spaces and museums, from Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire to the Musée Nissim de Camondo in Paris. His creations also graced esteemed institutions like The British Museum in London and The Frick Collection in New York. His art extended to places such as Ateneo Veneto in Venice and Schindler House in Los Angeles. He left his mark at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and the V&A Museum in London.
De Waal is also renowned for his bestselling family memoir, The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010), and The White Road (2015). His most recent book, Letters to Camondo, a series of haunting letters written during lockdown, was published in April 2021. Yale University awarded him the Windham-Campbell Prize for non-fiction in 2015. In 2021, he received a CBE for his services to art. He lives and works in London.
Theaster Gates (b. 1973) is an artist and social innovator who lives and works in Chicago. Over the past decade, Gates has translated the intricacies of Blackness through space theory and land development, sculpture, and performance. Through the expansiveness of his approach as a thinker, maker, and builder, he extends the role of the artist as an agent of change. His performance practice and visual work find roots in Black knowledge, objects, history, and archives.
Gates exhibited in various prestigious venues, including The New Museum, New York (2022) and The Aichi Triennial, Tokoname (2022). He also showcased at The Serpentine Pavilion, London (2022), and The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK (2021). His works adorned numerous locations, including Tate Liverpool, UK (2020), and Haus der Kunst, Munich (2020). Gates left his artistic footprint in places like the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2019), and the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France (2019).
His art was appreciated at institutions like the Sprengel Museum, Hannover, Germany (2018), and the Kunstmuseum, Basel, Switzerland (2018). Gates exhibited at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (2017), and the Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada (2016). He also made his mark at international venues like Fondazione Prada, Milan, Italy (2016), and Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria (2016). Additionally, his work was featured at Punta della Dogana, Venice, Italy (2013), and dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany (2012).
In 2010, Gates founded Rebuild Foundation, a nonprofit fostering art, culture, and community development in South Side Chicago. He has earned several awards and honorary degrees, including the Frederick Kiesler Prize (2022) and an Honorary Fellowship from the Royal Institute of British Architects (2021). Gates also received the World Economic Forum Crystal Award (2020) and J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development (2018); Nasher Sculpture Prize (2018); Sprengel Museum Kurt Schwitters Prize (2017); and Artes Mundi 6 Prize (2015).
In April 2018, Gates became the inaugural Distinguished Visiting Artist at Colby College's Lunder Institute. The American Academy in Rome appointed him as Visiting Artist in Residence in 2020. In 2021, the American Academy of Arts and Letters inducted him. Gates also serves as a professor at the University of Chicago and as Special Advisor to the President for Arts Initiatives.
Hanya Yanagihara (b. Los Angeles) is the author of three novels: The People in the Trees (2013), A Little Life (2015), and To Paradise (2022). Her work, published in 30+ languages, has garnered award nominations such as the Man Booker Prize and National Book Award. Additionally, her work clinched the Kirkus Award. Yanagihara lives in New York, where she is the editor in chief of T: The New York Times Style Magazine.
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