Field Trip: Noguchi Museum & Socrates Sculpture Park

Isamu Noguchi Museum sculpture2Noguchi mapOn the long walk from the subway station to the Noguchi Museum, Andrea and I talked about how you know you’re old when you find yourself saying that it’s been twenty years since you last did something. It came up because it had been at least twenty years since I had been to the Noguchi Museum, and I had no recollection of it being such a schlep. Then again, Andrea and I initially wandered the wrong direction—missing the high-street action on Broadway—and the day was already turning hot. The upside about our detour was this sign.

Queens refrain from feeding cats signWe had thought we would find somewhere to eat along the way, but no, so we were thrilled that the museum has a café. Alas, the options were limited to a pasta salad and a quinoa salad, and they were bland. You know it’s bad when you’re relieved that the café has packets of French’s mustard, which would normally have no business being anywhere near either of those salads.

Isamu Noguchi Museum building Isamu Noguchi Museum entrance Isamu Noguchi Museum foodMost of the museum is dedicated to the work of Isamu Noguchi—which sounds obvious, except that it recently introduced its first concurrent exhibit by another artist, Tom Sachs (through July 24). I love Noguchi’s public works—besides the ones around here, there was a sculpture garden of sorts, called California Scenario, near where I grew up that really blew my adolescent mind—so I was kind of bummed not to be more moved by the Noguchi works at the museum. Many are beautiful, and the craftsmanship is sublime, but they lost power in numbers. Also, Noguchi’s works beg to be touched—or in the case of the tabletop items, handled—so you can really explore the textures and sense the heft, but of course that’s not allowed. I feel this way about Brancusi: Won’t someone license the right to make paperweight versions of some of these? (Last criticism before we move on to the positive stuff: The lighting is too yellow.)

Isamu Noguchi Museum sculoture3Isamu Noguchi Museum sculpture Isamu Noguchi Museum tabletop works Isamu Noguchi Museum head plate Isamu Noguchi Museum creatureThe space itself is stunning. Look at that wall! (You bet I ran my hands all over it.) Andrea and I agreed that we could happily live in the upper level.

Noguchi wallIsamu Noguchi Museum upper floorIsamu Noguchi Museum upper floor2And the garden is a delight. We spent some time under the weeping tree, because how could we not?

Isamu Noguchi Museum garden Isamu Noguchi Museum under weeping treeAt the risk of this explaining why I’m too much of a philistine for Noguchi, I include this photo because it amused me to no end. Is that the brand’s name? Or is there a new name hidden by the dispenser? Some mysteries are better left ungoogled.

Formerly Krystal at Isamu Noguchi MuseumI wasn’t really looking forward to the Tom Sachs part, but it proved extremely rewarding. I knew he was craft-oriented in a way that would relate to Noguchi’s work, but there was much more to it.  Sachs appears to have thrown himself into a discussion with not just Noguchi and the museum but also Japanese traditions and culture. Some favorite pieces are below. The branches of the tree at the bottom are made of toothbrushes and cotton swabs.

Isamu Noguchi Museum Tom Sachs lobster Isamu Noguchi Museum Tom Sachs Star Wars thingamajig Isamu Noguchi Museum Tom Sachs cabinet Isamu Noguchi Museum Tom Sachs barbie Isamu Noguchi Museum cinder block Isamu Noguchi Museum Tom Sachs toothbrush treeExiting the museum—which, despite its shortcomings, is a very serene place—we were faced with this big, ugly blech. I know Costco’s brand is all about cheapness, but they could come up with architecture that’s less of a blight.

Costco in QueensAnd then we headed a couple of blocks over to the Socrates Sculpture Park. For some reason, I thought it was relatively new, but it’s actually celebrating its thirtieth year. It’s pretty scruffy, but the riverside location is lovely and it was fun to see people enjoying themselves there. The round earth art is Meg Webster’s “Concave Room for Bees”—it’s landscaped with bee-friendly plants—and the piano is Jessica Segall’s “Fugure in B ,” a piano harp with a beehive inside it (and theoretically you can hear them buzzing through the speakers in front of it).

Socrates Sculpture Park water viewSocrates Sculpture Park lawnOn our way back to the subway, we discovered that we had just missed seeing King of Falafel & Shawarma, just reviewed in the New York Times. (It’s the restaurant with #YEAHHHHHBABY” on the awning.) And we vowed to do lunch research ahead of our next excursion.

King of Falafel and ShawarmaPrevious Field Trip posts:
The Fisher Landau Center for Art
The High Bridge
The Broad
Crown Heights
Spuyten Duyvil
New York Botanical Garden
The New Whitney Museum
The Rockaways
S-Cruise by Smartboat
Wave Hill
Governors Island
F.D.R. Four Freedoms Park
Litchfield County, Conn.
One Wall Street
Behind the Scenes at Grand Central Terminal
The Howard/Crosby Microneighborhood
Federal Reserve Bank of New York
East River Ferry
Museum of American Finance