Red Cube, 1968
The sculpture is located in front of 140 Broadway, between Liberty and Cedar
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
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 . 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..." .
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" .
Related art works
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 ); 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.
- Torres, A. M. (2000). Isamu Noguchi: A Study of Space. New York: The Monacelli
Press, Inc. p. 293.
- Noguchi, I. (1968). The Sculptor and the Architect. In Apostolos-Cappadona,
D. & Altshuler, B, eds. (1994). Essays and Conversations. Henry Abrams, Inc.
- Noguchi, p. 52-53.
- 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.