2014
06.15

NOGUCHI

SYNOPSIS:  About a visit at the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum in Mure.   Transit to Matsuyama.

You are supposed to reserve 2 months ahead of time, a confirmation letter (the old fashioned snail-mail style, is promised in return), tours are only given three times per week, and the tickets cost over $20.  I had expected something more than ordinary in return.  Granted, two months ago I did not even know this place existed, so the required reservation was out of the question.  When I first called two days ago, nobody was there.  When I called again yesterday, nobody spoke English.  I stated my name and said that I was coming today — I have no idea how much of that was understood — but I figured there must be room for one single person and there was.  I had to write my name, nationality, and age on a sheet of paper — it felt like checking into a hotel.  A video about his life was playing at the information centre — all in Japanese.  Not even subtitles.

Between the bus out and back, storing my luggage, and the ticket, this visit cost me over $40.  Definitely not worth it unless you are a diehard fan of Noguchi.  I can’t say that I regretted going, but there is too much of a discrepancy for what it promises to be and for what it is in reality, especially for the English speaking visitor — of whom I was the only one today in our group of 15.

The only thing that was deemed worth translating for me were the rules of behaviour — I even got it writing:  No food.  No drinks.  No smoking.  No photography.  No video taping.  No touching the art work. No unattended children.  Since that was the only information I was give in my own language (aside from a brochure I had already gotten at the tourist information at the train station),  I took it as an insult.

How difficult could it be to write up just a brief summary of the 10-minute lecture the Japanese guide rattled off in front of the studio and then in front of the house?  A flimsy xerox, and I would have been happy.

No photography!?  Again I am amazed how you can tell a group of people such a rule — this applied to outdoor gardens, stones and scenery and everything we saw.  There was no fragile art work here that may need protection from a flash, there was nothing here that could possibly be copyright protected either — this museum owns all of it.   This did not make sense but nobody seemed even tempted to sneak a picture, except me…  We were walking on a public road and yet we were expected to refrain from taking pictures.  I wonder if that is even an enforceable request.  After the tour was all over, I walked up that road again and did take pictures.  Stupid rules need to be broken.

But since in our living room — a piece David inherited from his parents — there stands a Noguchi table, I am glad I saw a bit more about  the Japanese side of life of its creator.  Isamu Noguchi was born in Los Angeles to a Japanese father and an American mother, both of whom were poets and scholars.  Until he was 13 he lived in Japan, but came to the US to study at Columbia University.  From all I can tell he dropped out, yet became the recipient of a Guggenheim scholarship to study sculpture in Paris with Brancusi!  Not bad.   He is known as one of the great sculptors of the 20th century but also as a furniture, garden, stage set, and landscape designer.   The main part of his life was spent in New York where he died in 1988.

Here in the mountains of the small village of Mure just outside an area known for quarrying and stone sculpting — in fact, I passed a workshop where stone Buddhas, lanterns, and pagodas are produced as well as anything else your heart may desire for your garden — he established a home and studio in 1969,  Here, for almost two decades, he spent part of the year.  He worked here with the sculptor Masatoshi Izumi.

My brochure states that it was Isamu’s wish to have this place open to the public and to act as an inspiration to artists and art lovers.  I am not sure he had in mind to prevent people from photographing his work…  Too late to ask.  I was actually quite inspired by some of his forms and textures to try some of this approach in ceramics, but I am not sure I will retain the visuals well enough to do so.  Over 150 stones are scattered in a large circular yard right outside a small open-door studio.  A few tools are displayed here, too.  Many of these stones are works in progress.  The more finished pieces have been set up in one large adjacent barn-type building which he most likely used as a studio space also.  I am sure my Japanese guide explained this…

Right across the street he built himself a modest Japanese style home with a steep yard backing against the mountain.  A few of the more finished pieces are on display including a metal piece — somewhat unusual as all others are stone works.  His home is located at the edge of the village and yields to fields and forest just beyond.  The contrast to the hustle and bustle of New York could hardly be greater.

We were not even allowed to enter his house!  The guide opened one sliding door for us to look in and then we had to press our noses against some wooden bars which allowed small glimpses into the rest of the house — really…!  A few interesting stones were on display clearly used as furniture, like low-sitting tables.  But there was more to the house in the back which we were not privy to.

If I had nothing but time I would send them a letter expressing my disappointment of the structure and the limitations of the visit and of the clear disrespect towards any foreign visitors.  But time is the last thing I have in this country — there is too much to see.

The Noguchi Garden Museum concludes my visit to Takamatsu on the Shikoku island.  Off the Matsuyama next.  The train ride will take me along the edge of this island in a local “limited express” train — a polite way of saying that it will stop everywhere.  I don’t mind.  I enjoy these “gemuetliche” rides.   Lots of mountains in the distance, little towns, rice fields, shrines, rivers, overland lines.

By the time I will arrive it will be late.  Good night.