Melania Trump Announces a Noguchi Sculpture for the White House

November 21, 2020 

Melania Trump on Friday announced that a work by the sculptor Isamu Noguchi would be installed in the White House Rose Garden, a gift to the national collection that would be the first work by an Asian-American artist to be included in it.

The sculpture, Noguchi's 1962 "Floor Frame," highlights "the beautiful contributions of Asian-American artists to the landscape of our country," Ms. Trump said in a statement.

Noguchi, one of the most acclaimed modern American artists, became a political activist after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, working to combat racism and raise awareness of the patriotism of Japanese-Americans and voluntarily spending time in an Arizona relocation center.

Brett Littman, the director of the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum in Long Island City, Queens, described the placement of the sculpture in the White House's Rose Garden as a milestone.

"Unfortunately it comes at a complicated moment," he said, citing the election. "But the key for us is that this will be on display in perpetuity at the White House. Administrations come and go, but artwork remains. We do feel proud, and we think Noguchi would feel proud as well."

Noguchi, who was born in Los Angeles and died in 1988, viewed the black patina and bronze piece, which was cast in two parts, as the intersection of a tree and the ground. It reflects the qualities of both an implied root system and the canopy of a tree, Ms. Trump's office said in a statement.

President Trump, unlike his predecessors, has at times declined to unequivocally condemn the internment camps that Noguchi spent time in. Asked in 2015, before he was elected, whether he would have supported the internment of Japanese-Americans, he responded: "I certainly hate the concept of it. But I would have had to be there at the time to give you a proper answer."

Noguchi's time in the Arizona relocation center was explored by the Noguchi Museum in an exhibition, "Self-Interned, 1942" in 2017. Noguchi's sculptures, some made during his detention, were accompanied by letters and documents that shed light on his failed efforts to humanize the camps. The New York Times critic Jason Farago called the exhibition both "illuminating" and "dispiritingly relevant."

Noguchi had been exempt from an executive order that enabled the military to round up Japanese-Americans in California, Oregon and Washington State, as he lived in New York.

But he had aimed during his time there to redesign the Poston War Relocation Center near the Arizona-California border, the largest of the camps. Instead of a place defined by its barbed wire enclosures, he envisioned a school, community center, botanical garden and even a miniature golf course in one blueprint, though his grand plan never came to pass. This work was up for auction at Sotheby's in March and was purchased by the White House Historical Association, a private, nonprofit organization that gifted the sculpture to the White House.

"While powerful in its own right, Floor Frame is humble in scale, and complements the authority of the Oval Office," the White House said in a statement.

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