To most, “accessorizing with Noguchi” means adding that famous coffee table or a paper lamp to the living room. Unlike regular people, though, designer Robert Stadler had the famous sculptor’s whole catalogue on hand, choosing, among others, Big Id—a phallic marble sculpture—to complement his own work in an exuberant new show at the Noguchi Museum.
Solid Doubts: Robert Stadler at The Noguchi Museum is the museum’s first exhibition to feature another designer’s work in such close dialogue with Isamu Noguchi. It’s an opportunity, said Executive Director Jenny Dixon, to “layer contemporary voices into the museum.” But it’s also a high-stakes conversation—in addition to being one of the most peaceful places in New York, Noguchi designed the original galleries himself. How to create a space of your own and respect Noguchi?
As its title suggests, Solid Doubts complicates the artists’ work down to its very definitions. The first impulse is to pick out Noguchi from Stadler, Where’s Waldo? style, but that’s not the point. The actual fun is in the adjacencies across four installations that fold work from Stadler and Noguchi into each other. Stadler, who’s based in Paris, and curator Dakin Hart arranged these tableaus in an intense collaboration they jokingly referred to as a “long-distance date.”
In the main gallery, Stadler’s Cut_Paste #4 hosts two Noguchi sculptures, one in chunky slate and the other, a delicate gold anodized aluminum piece clinging to a marble shelf. The arrangements resist easy categories: Can you put a drink on it? Sit on it?
Well—in the Cut_Paste series, these everyday distinctions don’t really matter. “It’s all designed to be used,” Stadler said. “It’s not meant to be sculpture.”
“They play with the typology of furniture but doesn’t sit evenly or comfortably in any category,” Hart added, noting that Stadler’s confusing and borderline gaudy assemblages are supposed to recall leftovers from a bad 1980s luxury condo development.
Two other galleries are reserved for more elaborate tableaus. In one, two fictional scenarios join together: Noguchi’s set pieces for Martha Graham’s ballets are placed among Stadler’s digitally-milled PDT furniture in a meeting of fantasy and function. The room is organized, loosely, around Stadler’s Anywhere #2, a moveable ceiling lamp which the artist guided around the room to illuminate Noguchi’s props and his own ashlar table, bench, and mirror.
In the other gallery, a deconstructed Chesterfield sofa melts against one wall, like tar, guarded by a pouf in the same material and flanked by sit-upons that would be at home at a Girl Scout meeting. The “biomorphic assault,” as the museum calls it, underscores the subtly of Noguchi’s lighting: two of his Akari lanterns anchor the walls, while one of the rarest Noguchi lamps, on loan from a private collector, surveys the room from above. The unencumbered layout—developed collaboratively with Stadler and the museum—lets visitors move in and around the works as they please (the accident-prone should note that this arrangement is easy to trip over).
Outside, in Noguchi’s garden, Stadler installed two works, playful riffs on cheap plastic garden furniture. Cast aluminum mockups of the white table and chair, looking sturdy in spite of their mottled surfaces and missing pieces, are placed apart from each other, a deliberate break from the table→chair→sit progression as well as a comment on the long-term sustainability of these familiar but flimsy items.
For those reluctant to make the trek to Queens, Solid Doubts coincides with two upcoming opportunities to see Stadler’s work in New York: He will have another Noguchi pairing at the Collective Design Fair next month, and at Weight Class, a solo exhibition at Carpenters Workshop Gallery that begins April 27. But really, why not go to the museum first?
Solid Doubts: Robert Stadler at The Noguchi Museum opens April 26 and runs through September 3, 2017.