On Wednesday, alongside works by Pablo Picasso, Helen Frankenthaler, George Condo and Liu Ye, Christie’s will sell a Noguchi light sculpture during its 20th Century Art Hong Kong to New York sale. Light Sculpture (Lunar), circa 1943, is expected to achieve a price of $500,000-$700,000.
Made one year after the artist voluntarily entered a Japanese Internment camp in Arizona, the interior-lit wall-mounted work makes its debut at auction after three decades in private hands with a third-party guarantee.
Andy Warhol was the first recorded owner of the sculpture, gifting it to his lover, interior designer and filmmaker Jed Johnson in 1976. It then changed hands to modern and postwar art collectors Dr. Marvin and Natalie Gliedman, who bought the work in 1991 at New York’s Fifty/50 gallery. Under the Gliedman’s ownership, the work was last exhibited publicly at the artist’s retrospective in 2004 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C..
The present work is an example from the sculptor’s Lunar series developed in the 1940s, following his commission to make the Chassis Fountain for Ford Motor Company at the New York World Art Fair in 1939. Top examples from this period, which feature Noguchi’s “self-illuminating” forms, include the hanging light sculpture Lunar Infant from 1944 at the Isamu Noguchi Museum and Sculpture Garden, as well as Lunar Landscape made in 1943, jointly owned by the Hirschhorn Museum and the Crystal Bridges Museum. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum owns Lunar, his 1959 gold standing sculpture made of anodized aluminum.
In November 2015, Christie’s set a record price for Noguchi with the sale of Olmec and Muse (1985), made a year before the artist’s appearance in the Venice Biennale. The large-scale outdoor stone sculpture sold for $4.98 million with buyer’s fees, over its high estimate of $800,000 by a factor of 6 times. Now, the sculptor is the subject of renewed attention following the recent acquisition of his small bronze sculpture titled Floor Frame (1985) to the the White House’s permanent art collection, making Noguchi the first Asian-American artist represented in its holdings.
Christie’s will also sell a standing wood sculpture from the Gliedman collection on December 3. Man from 1945 is expected to fetch a price of $3 million-$5 million. If it reaches it’s high estimate, it could set a new record for the artist. Another, titled Solitude cast in 1963 from the holdings of New York-based Foundation of Mireille and James Lévy will sell at the house’s contemporary art day sale on December 3. It is expected to reach a price of $600,000-$800,000.
Influenced by Constantin Brancusi and Jean Arp and known for his use of organic forms, Noguchi’s wide-ranging use of material has accounted for his a more diluted market, with price points lagging behind contemporaries like Alexander Calder and David Smith. The artist’s top 20 auction prices range from the mid-1920s to the later 1980s, spanning the artist’s entire career. Still, Lunar series works primarily exist in museum collections, making the present work on offer at Christie’s a rare example at auction.