Last night, the Noguchi Museum awarded Sir David Adjaye and Cai Guo-Qiang with the Isamu Noguchi Award. The virtual benefit event, during which the honors were celebrated, was hosted by museum director Brett Littman. After a short opening statement filmed in the museum’s galleries, Littman kicked off the proceedings by announcing the renaming of 33rd Road in Queens, New York, to Isamu Noguchi Way. Notably, today happens to be Noguchi’s birthday.

Recognition of Sir David Adjaye’s work by the museum was particularly poignant, given the consistent overlap between Noguchi’s practice and that of Adjaye. Although the two men’s mediums are seemingly different—Noguchi’s work mainly rests within the realms of sculpture and design, while Adjaye’s emphasis is on architecture—thoughtful considerations of material, space, and nature find their ways into both bodies of work. Noguchi created sculpture with the intention that it exist in tandem with the natural world; Adjaye builds with an intimate understanding of surrounding communities and nearby land.

Isamu Noguchi museum curator Spencer Bailey noted to AD PRO that “Adjaye’s work shares many things with Noguchi’s: a poetic sensibility, a lightness of touch, a gracefulness, an ethereality, a warmth. As with Noguchi, David has an appreciation for and an understanding of light and shadow, abstraction, and tactility. Also like Noguchi, a deep sense of memory is embedded in his projects—an alchemical power takes over.”

We see this powerfully not only in Adjaye’s past projects, such as the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., but also in current commissions like the Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi—which was referenced by Thelma Golden, director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, in a video during the event. The development will house a mosque, synagogue, and church when it is complete. 

Artist Cai Guo-Qiang was also a fitting choice to be honored. His work responds to structures—both physical and metaphysical—with care and force. His gunpowder drawings use a violent medium to communicate delicate messages, much in the way Noguchi manipulated marble.

Last night’s event touched on this importance with a short video about Isamu Noguchi and the museum. The purpose of the museum is to advance the understanding of Noguchi’s work, and the award specifically honors individuals who approach their practice in the same category-defying way. Also during the event, Adjaye spoke to the overlapping multiculturalism he has in common with Noguchi’s practice. The AD100 architect opened up about the time he spent in Japan in his youth—and how the light and culture impacted his own understanding of the value of heritage. The conversations included throughout the evening were highly intimate. They were also presented in a quiet and sensitive manner, which felt completely in line with the experience offered by Noguchi Museum itself.



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