Noguchi and Stadler: A Solid Pairing

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SINCE THE NOGUCHI MUSEUM opened in the 1980s— helmed by the artist Isamu Noguchi himself—it has been a single-artist museum, and, as senior curator Dakin Hart will tell you, it’s not a place people visit by accident. The museum in Long Island City, Queens, has long been a pilgrimage site for admirers of the Japanese-American sculptor. Now, for the first time, the museum has invited a contemporary designer to exhibit pieces in conversation with Noguchi’s sculptural works.

Solid Doubts, on view until September 3, mixes Noguchi’s work with that of Austrian designer Robert Stadler. As Hart explains, “Stadler is basically a conceptual artist in the guise of a designer, and Noguchi was a conceptual artist in the guise of a sculptor.” The push-and-pull allusion in the title is no accident—Stadler admires the semantic layers of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and often employs these wordplays when titling and conceptualizing his own work.

Solid Doubts is divided into four installations. The proof of Noguchi and Stadler’s synergy is in the pudding, or in this case, Stadler’s Pools and Pouf!, in which a black leather couch melts off the wall. As it begins to dribble across the floor, several of Noguchi’s ethereal paper Akari lamps form a visual counterpoint.

In another corner, the wooden set pieces that Noguchi created for renowned choreographer Martha Graham are on display. The set pieces—a stool and two freestanding sculptures—look like stick figures in motion. They are juxtaposed with rounded slices of stonemasonry from Stadler’s PDT series, which are fragments of buildings only imagined. These fragments serve as a bench, coffee table, and standing mirror.

Noguchi and Stadler have a special kinship in their radical interdisciplinarity. “My work always deals with function, but I don’t always come up with a functional object,” Stadler says.

Nicholas Knight Photo, Courtesy Noguchi Museum

Across the river, Stadler’s Weight Class, at Carpenters Workshop Gallery in midtown Manhattan, is on view until June 24. And once again, his predilection for witty titles is on display—this time referencing boxers of equivalent size. The principle of balanced opponents is one Stadler also explores in his Cut_Paste series. For this collection of tables and shelves, the designer layers industrial aluminum and fine marble. The cross section of these contrasting materials is visible from different angles. Despite the fact that only the marble is meant to be seen in most architecture, Stadler values both materials equally.

Other highlights of the Carpenters Workshop Gallery exhibition include Stadler’s suspension lamp Anywhere #2, a portable fixture that can turn any light into a rotating object. Here, it’s Noguchi’s Akari lamp hanging from Stadler’s armature—a nod to their coupling a borough away. “We’re trying to open Noguchi up to contemporary understanding, because he anticipated a lot of what we think of as ‘contemporary’ now,” Hart explains. “All the things that make him interesting now were tough for him to pull off at the time.”