Born in Los Angeles in 1904, Isamu Noguchi went 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, New York, and took sculpture classes at the Leonardo da Vinci Art 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 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 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. During World War II, Noguchi became a political activist and voluntarily spent seven months in 1941–42 at a Japanese-American relocation camp in Arizona. In 1949, he was given a solo show at the Egan Gallery, New York. In Japan in 1950–51, he designed gardens, bridges, and monuments and developed his akari (paper lanterns). He showed at the Stable Gallery, New York, in 1954 and 1959.
Noguchi’s first solo show in Paris was held at the Galerie Claude Bernard in 1964. The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, honored him with a major retrospective 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 in 1978 at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. The Noguchi Museum was founded and designed by the artist in Long Island City, New York, in 1985. Noguchi died on December 30, 1988, in New York.