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Abstract Expressionist Sculpture

Explore how sculptors took on the challenges of Abstract Expressionism

My Pacific (Polynesian Culture)

Isamu Noguchi
(American, 1904–1988)

1942. Driftwood, 41 x 21 x 8 1/4" (104.1 x 53.3 x 20.9 cm)

During World War II, Isamu Noguchi, who was born to a Japanese father and an American mother, spent seven months in a Japanese internment camp in Arizona. Noguchi could have avoided internment, since he lived in New York City and the forced evacuation was directed at Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast and in Hawaii, but he volunteered to enter the camp.

After his time there, Noguchi made a series of sculptures, including My Pacific, out of driftwood he collected in California and Arizona. The sculptor and designer preferred natural materials, such as wood, marble, slate, and bone, often carving them into organic forms or leaving them as he found them. He would then assemble the pieces into a composition that depended on balance to remain upright. In 1973 he said, “I’m always trying to expand the possibility of sculpture. … To me the essence of sculpture derives very much from the material, you know, the truth of the material.”1

Oral history interview with Isamu Noguchi, 1973. Archives of American Art

A three-dimensional work of art made by a variety of means, including carving wood, chiseling stone, casting or welding metal, molding clay or wax, or assembling materials.

Having characteristics of a biological entity, or organism, or developing in the manner of a living thing.

The arrangement of the individual elements within a work of art so as to form a unified whole; also used to refer to a work of art, music, or literature, or its structure or organization.

Noguchi at Poston Internment Camp
On May 8, 1941, Noguchi voluntarily entered the camp as a form of protest with the ambition of starting an arts-and-crafts program for the involuntary detainees. Although Noguchi entered southwestern Arizona’s Poston War Relocation Center with the understanding that he could leave at any time, he was in fact detained for much longer than he anticipated, staying in the camp for seven months before he was allowed to return to New York.