Opening on May 1, 2019 at The Noguchi Museum, Changing and Unchanging Things: Noguchi and Hasegawa in Postwar Japan is a major traveling exhibition tracing the consequential friendship and mutual influence between two artists: the Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) and the Japanese painter and theorist Saburo Hasegawa (1906–1957). In his lifetime, Hasegawa was among the most renowned contemporary Japanese artists in the United States, and credited with introducing European abstraction to Japan in his role as an art historian, critic, and art theorist.
In May 1950 Isamu Noguchi returned to Japan for his first visit in 20 years. He was, Noguchi said, seeking models for evolving the relationship between sculpture and society—having emerged from the war years with a profound desire to reorient his work “toward some purposeful social end.” The artist Saburo Hasegawa was a key figure for Noguchi during this period, making introductions to Japanese artists, philosophies, and material culture. Hasegawa, who had mingled with the European avant-garde during time spent as a painter in Paris in the 1930s, was, like Noguchi, seeking an artistic hybridity. By the time Hasegawa and Noguchi met, both had been thinking deeply about the balance between tradition and modernity, and indigenous and foreign influences, in the development of traditional cultures for some time. The predicate of their intense friendship was a thorough exploration of traditional Japanese culture within the context of seeking what Noguchi termed “an innocent synthesis” that “must rise from the embers of the past.”
Changing and Unchanging Things is an account of how their joint exploration of traditional Japanese culture influenced their contemporary and subsequent work. The 40 masterpieces in the exhibition—by turns elegiac, assured, ambivalent, anguished, euphoric, and resigned—are organized into the major overlapping subjects of their attention: the landscapes of Japan, the abstracted human figure, the fragmentation of matter in the atomic age, and Japan’s traditional art forms.
The richly illustrated, bilingual exhibition catalogue includes essays by curators Dakin Hart and Mark Dean Johnson, as well as other leading scholars, and the publication also includes essays by Hasegawa and Noguchi—Hasegawa’s “Noguchi in Japan” (1950) and Noguchi’s “Remembrance of Saburo Hasegawa” (1976).
Additionally, an open access companion, The Saburo Hasegawa Reader, collects a valuable trove of material including the entire manuscript for a 1957 Hasegawa memorial volume, with its essays by philosopher Alan Watts, Oakland Museum Director Paul Mills, and Japan Times art writer Elise Grilli, as well as various unpublished writings by Hasegawa. A free ebook version can be downloaded through Luminos, UC Press’s Open Access publishing program, with a paperback edition also available for purchase.
Changing and Unchanging Things will travel to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco in Fall 2019.