Everything You Need to Know About the Noguchi Lamp

It's actually known by the wrong name.

Photo by LouiseDahl-Wolfe. ©The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / Artists Rights Society(ARS).

Chances are if someone asked you what a Noguchi lamp is, you’d think you had no idea. But the truth is, you have seen these delicate paper lamps hanging from ceilings, tucked away in corners and in many ethereal restaurants during your lifetime—you just never knew what they were actually called.

"Isamu Noguchi and Hiroshi Teshigahara," Sogetsu Art Museum, November 20–December20, 1980.
Courtesy of The Noguchi Museum

What is a Noguchi lamp?

Their name comes from the famous Japanese-American sculptor, Isamu Noguchi, who in 1951 was traveling through the town of Gifu, Japan. On his journey, he was inspired by the lanterns used by night fisherman out on the Nagara River. This small town was (and still is) known for manufacturing goods out of mulberry bark and bamboo, like paper umbrellas and paper lanterns. Noguchi stayed and learned the traditional Gifu method of paper construction, and eventually created his lamps, which he called Akari, meaning “light”, in Japanese.

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“Everything is sculpture…any material, any idea without hindrance born into space, I consider sculpture.”—Isamu Noguchi • In 1951, Noguchi created his “akari” light sculptures and continued to reinterpret them until his death in 1988. The impact of these “akari” (translated as “light as illumination” in Japanese) transcended the world of art and made a lasting impact on design still seen today. Read more about the history of this ubiquitous art form via the link in our bio and see it in person in @NoguchiMuseum’s phenomenal exhibition “Akari: Sculpture by Other Means,” on view through January 27, 2019. • Image via Artsy’s @TessNatnicha #IsamuNoguchi #Noguchi #Akari #NoguchiMuseum

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How are they made?

A true Akari lamp is still made of two very basic elements: a bamboo frame and handmade (washi) paper. The paper is cut into strips, glued to the bamboo framework, and once dried the internal wood form is removed, leaving a resilient lamp that is delicate to look at, but packs flat for shipping (he had this idea way before IKEA even existed). He designed them to be ethereal, light and illuminate a space gracefully—essentially cutting down on the harshness of then popular incandescent bulbs. He eventually designed more than one hundred styles of Akari lamps that still get made today.

Isamu Noguchi working on Akari in Japan, 1968.
©The Isamu Noguchi Foundation andGarden Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS).
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We are happy to announce that the popular exhibitions ‘Akari: Sculpture by Other Means’ and ‘Akari Unfolded: A Collection by #YMERetMALTA’ will be extended through May 5, 2019. @valeriemaltaverne / @oceanedelain, ‘Belle de Jour’ (2018), and Isamu Noguchi, Akari 24N (designed 1968). — #IsamuNoguchi #イサムノグチ #NoguchiAkari #AkariUnfolded 📷RG @valeriemaltaverne

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These days, you can still find authentic Akari lamps through museum shops like his eponymous, Noguchi museum, and MoMa. Check out his complete portfolio at Vitra or make plans to visit The Noguchi Museum in New York City for full access to his life's work.

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