Isamu Noguchi was born on November 17, 1904, in Los Angeles. His Japanese father was a poet and his American mother a writer. In 1906 the family moved to Japan. He was sent to Indiana for schooling in 1918, and in 1922 he apprenticed to the sculptor Gutzon Borglum in Connecticut. For the next two years he was a premedical student at Columbia University in New York and took sculpture classes at the Leonardo da Vinci School, also in New York. Noguchi decided to become an artist and left Columbia in 1925.
A John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship in 1927 enabled him to go to Paris, where he worked as Constantin Brancusi’s studio assistant. In Paris he became friendly with Alexander Calder, Stuart Davis, and Jules Pascin. Noguchi returned to New York in 1928 and the following year showed abstract sculpture in his first solo show at the Eugene Schoen Gallery. In 1930 Noguchi traveled in Europe and Asia, studying calligraphy in China and pottery in Japan. In New York during the early 1930s, he associated with Arshile Gorky, John Graham, Chaim Gross, and Moses and Raphael Soyer and introduced social content into his work. He began to design playgrounds, furniture, and theater decor, executing the first of numerous sets for Martha Graham.
Noguchi spent six months in 1941–42 in a Japanese-American relocation camp. In 1949 he was given a solo show at the Egan Gallery in New York. In Japan in 1950–51 he designed gardens, bridges, and monuments and developed his paper lanterns (akari). He showed at the Stable Gallery in New York in 1954 and 1959. In 1961 Noguchi moved to Long Island City, New York. His first solo exhibition in Paris was held at the Galerie Claude Bernard in 1964. The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York presented a major retrospective of his work in 1968. Throughout the 1970s Noguchi continued to make large outdoor sculpture and fountains. A comprehensive show of his sculpture, theater sets, and environmental works took place at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1978. In 1985 part of the artist’s studio in Long Island City was opened as the Noguchi Garden Museum, and the following year Noguchi represented the United States at the Venice Biennale. In 1987 he received the National Medal of Arts. Noguchi died on December 30, 1988, in New York.