The Akari Light Sculptures of Isamu Noguchi

The Akari Light Sculptures of Isamu Noguchi

"All you require to start a home are a room, a tatami, and Akari." —Isamu Noguchi

If you've been in the PMA Store in the last few months, you've seen a new display that abounds with illumination: the Akari light sculptures of Isamu Noguchi. These exquisite yet affordable hand-crafted lamps were recently featured in a New York Times feature on how to decorate your home, and for the time being, the PMA Store is the only place in Maine you can buy these (in-store only). Now that Beyond the Pedestal: Isamu Noguchi and the Borders of Sculpture is open, you can see elaborate examples of Akari light sculptures, and then in the PMA Store you can take one home (along with a variety of Noguchi books). But what are they?

The Akari light sculptures
In 1951, Isamu Noguchi visited the Japanese town of Gifu, known for its manufacture of lanterns and umbrellas. Inspired by the lanterns illuminating night fishing on the Nagara River, Noguchi designed the first of his lamps that would be produced by the traditional Gifu methods of construction. The works, which bring together aspects of the artist’s Japanese heritage and his identity as a leading American modernist, glow with a captivating intangibility that defies conventional categorization. He called these works Akari, a term that means light, but also implies the idea of weightlessness. Extending the concept of illuminated sculpture that he developed during the 1940s, Noguchi employed abstract shapes to unite the simplicity of Japanese aesthetics with the principles of contemporary art and design.

How Akari light sculptures are made
Each Akari is hand crafted at the Ozeki Company in Japan, following the traditional methods for Japanese Gifu lanterns. Bamboo ribbing is stretched across wooden molded forms that resemble sculpture. Washi paper, which is made from the inner bark of the mulberry tree, is cut into strips and glued onto both sides of the framework. Once the glue has dried and the shape is set, the internal wooden form is disassembled and removed. The outcome is a resilient paper form, which can be collapsed and packed flat for shipping. The final Akari package includes Noguchi's patented metal-wire support system.

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October 4, 2018
Brand Manager

Robert is a native of Winslow, Maine, and a graduate of Boston’s Emerson College. After spending years as a screenwriter in New York City and an arts journalist in Santa Fe, he moved back to Maine to raise a family in 2008. He currently lives in Portland’s Back Cove with his wife, who owns a business up the street from the PMA, and two young sons.