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Queens Chronicle

Art a family affair at The Noguchi Museum

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Posted: Thursday, March 10, 2011 12:00 am

A prominent Japanese-American artist and landscape architect whose prolific career spanned six decades, Isamu Noguchi’s collection of work at his Long Island City museum continues to affect the fluid imagination, namely, of its young museumgoers.

“It looks like a playground,” a young girl chimed.

“It looks like scaffolding, like from around New York City,” commented another.

“Yes it does, doesn’t it?” Encouraged Harumi Ori, a museum educator leading the Sunday morning art class. “Noguchi used this creation to collaborate with other artists. Can you think of how?” she asked.

The sculpture they were gathered around was the “Jungle Gym” element from Noguchi’s “Stephen Acrobat” series, circa 1947, a creation of steel rods that the artist used to prompt a dancer’s repertoire within its kinetic space.

Decades after the dance performance, the piece is part of an exhibition called “On Becoming an Artist: Isamu Noguchi and His Contemporaries: 1922-1960,” inspiring budding artists to not only think about the concept of working together with friends, but also the importance of spending time with their families.

“To make something with your classmates and your mom and dad is fun, because they might have ideas different than you do,” Ori explained to the young crowd, now looking closely at a photo of Noguchi in Mexico with the likes of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

The Noguchi Museum’s weekend “Art for Families” and “Art for Tots” programs, available in both Japanese and English, build their curriculum on the museum’s permanent and temporary exhibitions, serving as an evolving organism that lets participants live through creative experimentation, said Rebecca Herz, head of education at the museum.

“We want children to understand art as open and exploratory, that it isn’t just about having a relationship with material,” Herz added, citing Ori’s lesson plan in which she had the class talk with their parents to decide on a favorite family memory, then had them share materials with classmates to paint their memories on a paper canvas using personal symbols.

These symbols that the children paint would eventually become a “secret sign” for these precious memories, Ori said, which can help maintain a strong bond for families.

The son of Japanese poet Yone Noguchi and American writer Léonie Gilmour, Noguchi’s artistic ambitions were nurtured by his single mother throughout their numerous trans-Pacific moves during his childhood.

In his late teens, Noguchi served as an apprentice to artists around the world, eventually becoming renowned in his own right as designer of the “Japanese Garden” at Paris’ UNESCO Headquarters and the bridge at Hiroshima Peace Park, winning a fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1971 and the National Medal of Arts in 1987, one year before his death.

Like Noguchi, many of the children who attend the museum’s weekend programs are of Japanese and American descent, growing up on two continents and with two languages, Ori said. She hopes the museum’s weekend programs bring together a community of children who are growing up in the same way, allowing them to see that their biculturalism is an asset to be cherished, she added.

“We want the museum to be an intimate place with open communication,” Herz said. “We want it to be a warm place where young artists can keep coming back, a place where we can see their growth and progress.”

‘Arts for Families,’‘ Arts for Tots’

When: Saturdays and Sundays

Where: The Noguchi Museum, 9-01 33 Rd. at Vernon Blvd.

(718) 204-7088

Ticket price:$5 for the whole family

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