Red Cube, 1968

Artist
Isamu Noguchi

Location
The sculpture is located in front of 140 Broadway, between Liberty and Cedar Streets.

Description
The bright red painted steel of Isamu Noguchi's Red Cube stands out in strong contrast to the blacks, browns, and whites of the buildings and sidewalks around the sculpture. Located to one side of a small plaza in front of the HSBC (previously the Marine Midland Bank) building on Broadway, Red Cube is surrounded on three sides by skyscrapers, the height of which draw a viewer's eye upwards. The sculpture itself adds to this upward pull, as it balances on one corner, the opposite corner reaching towards the sky. Despite its title, the sculpture is not actually a cube, but instead seems as though it has been stretched along its vertical axis.

Aside from it's striking color, Red Cube also stands out from the surrounding architecture in that all of its lines are diagonals, whereas the buildings are made up of horizontal and vertical lines. Additionally, the sculpture is balanced somewhat precariously on one corner, while the buildings, by contrast, and solidly placed.

Through the center of the cube there is a cylindrical hole, revealing an inner surface of gray with evenly-spaced lines moving from one opening of the hole to the other. Looking through this hole, the viewer's gaze is directed towards the building behind, tying the sculpture and the architecture together.

Although Noguchi began his sculpting career creating individual pieces, he spent a number of years in the 1940s and 50s working primarily on designing spaces, such as gardens and plazas, and incorporating sculptural elements that worked together to create a whole. These experiences affected his subsequent work on individual sculpture pieces [1]. In discussing his conception of public sculpture, Noguchi expresses the importance of the relationship between sculpture and architecture: "The spaces around buildings should be treated in such a way as to dramatize and make the space meaningful..." [2].

Possible discussion themes
What are the relationships between public art and architecture?
Often, public art is seen as secondary to architecture. Noguchi addresses this issue in his 1968 article, "The Sculptor and the Architect" saying, "the sculptor is not merely a decorator of buildings but a serious collaborator with the architect in the creation of significant space and of significant shapes which define this space" [3].

Related art works
Sunken Garden.
Another Noguchi work, Sunken Garden, is located about a block from Red Cube at the plaza in front of the Chase Manhattan Bank building. A discussion comparing the pieces could bring up the differences in their materials (Sunken Garden employs elements of nature—rocks taken from the bottom of a river in Japan, while Red Cube uses steel plates, representing technology and the built environment [4]); or the way space is conceived (Sunken Garden is meant to be seen from the outside, and is a cohesive space in and of itself; Red Cube allows for more viewer interaction, and is immediately seen in relation to the buildings that surround it).

Group of Four Trees.
Also located on the plaza at the Chase Manhattan Bank building, Group of Four Trees, by Jean Dubuffet, is an interesting contrast to the building next to which is stands. Red Cube contrasts with its surroundings in many ways, but it is geometric in shape, which relates it back to the architecture of the nearby buildings. Group of Four Trees, on the other hand, echoes the colors of the architecture, but adds movement through its irregular shape.

Footnotes

  1. Torres, A. M. (2000). Isamu Noguchi: A Study of Space. New York: The Monacelli Press, Inc. p. 293.
  2. Noguchi, I. (1968). The Sculptor and the Architect. In Apostolos-Cappadona, D. & Altshuler, B, eds. (1994). Essays and Conversations. Henry Abrams, Inc. p. 52.
  3. Noguchi, p. 52-53.
  4. Torres, p. 297.

For more information about Noguchi, visit the website of The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum. The museum is located in Long Island City, Queens.

 

 
 
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