Lot 10
  • 10

Isamu Noguchi

800,000 - 1,200,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Isamu Noguchi
  • Strange Bird
  • signed, dated 45 88, and numbered AP IX
  • bronze
  • 55 1/2 by 21 1/2 by 23 in. 141 by 54.6 by 58.4 cm.
  • Conceived in 1945, this work was cast in 1988 and is number one of two artist's proofs, outside the edition of 8.


The artist
The Noguchi Foundation
The Pace Gallery, New York 
Acquired by the present owner from the above


New Haven, Yale University Art Gallery, Sculpture Since Rodin, January - February 1949, n.p., no. 26, illustrated (green slate) (as To The Sunflower)
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Washington, D.C., The Phillips Gallery; Fort Worth, Fort Worth Art Center; Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Art; Minneapolis, Walker Art Center; and St. Louis, City Art Museum of St. Louis, Nature in Abstraction: The Relation of Abstract Painting and Sculpture to Nature in Twentieth-Century American Art, January 1958 - February 1959, p. 54, illustrated (green slate) (as Unknown Bird)
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Isamu Noguchi, April - June 1968, p. 24, no. 19 (green slate) (as Unknown Bird) 
New York, Cordier & Ekstrom, Inc., Strange Birds, May - June 1972 (bronze, black patina ed. 1/8, 2/8, 3/8, 4/8, 5/8, 6/8, 8/8, bronze, gold patina, ed. 3/8)
London, Gimpel Fils, Ltd., Master Sculptors of the 20th Century, January - March 1973, n.p. no. 18, illustrated (bronze, gold finish, ed. 7/8)
Tokyo, Minami Gallery, Sculptures by Isamu Noguchi, May - June 1973, n.p., no. 9, illustrated (aluminum)
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institute, American Art at Mid-Century, October 1973 - January 1974, n.p. illustrated in color (green slate)
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Masters of the Twentieth Century, 1972 (bronze, black patina, ed. 2/8 and 8/8)
New York, The Pace Gallery, Isamu Noguchi - Bronze & Iron Sculpture, May - June 1988, p. 13, no. 3, illustrated (bronze, the present example)
Kagawa, Marugame Genichiro-Inokuma Museum of Contemporary Art, Dear Heartfelt Friend, Isamu Noguchi, November 1992 - March 1993, n.p., no. 2, illustrated in color (aluminum, ed. 6/8)
Madrid, Fundación Juan March, Isamu Noguchi, April - June 1994, p. 35, no. 7, illustrated (aluminum, ed. 7/8)
New York, Pace Wildenstein, Modern Masters from the Collection of Mark Goodson, October - November 1995, p. 63, illustrated (bronze, ed. 2/8)
New York, PaceWildenstein, Earthly Forms: The Biomorphic Sculpture of Arp, Calder, Noguchi, February - March 2000, p. 27, illustrated in color (bronze)
Tokyo, Sogetsu Art Museum, Isamu Noguchi, November - December 2002 (bronze, black patina, ed. 2/8 and aluminum, ed. 6/8)
New York, The Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, Sculpture and Nature, June 2002 - January 2003 (aluminum, ed. 7/8)
Sapporo, Moerenuma Park, Isamu Noguchi Exhibition in the Glass Pyramid, June - August 2003 (aluminum, ed. 6/8)
New York, PaceWildenstein, The Interlocking Sculpture of Isamu Noguchi, September - October 2003, p. 22, illustrated (with the artist in his MacDougal Alley studio, New York, 1945), p. 23, illustrated in color (aluminum, ed. 7/8)
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; and Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Isamu Noguchi: Master Sculptor, October 2004 - May 2005, p. 100, illustrated (with the artist in his MacDougal Alley studio, New York, 1945); p. 101, illustrated (green slate); p. 103 (text)
Sapporo, Museum of Contemporary Art, Isamu Noguchi: Energy out of Nothingness, July - August 2005 (aluminum, ed. 6/8)
New York, The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, The Imagery of Chess Revisited, October 2005 - March 2006, p. 135, no. 81a, illustrated (green slate), p. 136 (text)
Yokohama, Yokohama Sogo Museum of Art; Shiga, The Museum of Modern Art; and Takamatsu, Takamatsu City Museum of Art, Isamu Noguchi: Connecting the World Through Sculpture, April - November 2006, p. 84, no. 56, illustrated in color (aluminum, ed. 6/8)
New York, The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, Survey of Paris Abstractions, May - September 2007 (green slate, and bronze, gold patina, artist copy)
Leeds, Henry Moore Institute; Scheveningen, Museum Beelden Aan Zee; and Bremen, Gerhard-Marcks-Haus, Against Nature: The Hybrid Forms of Modern Sculpture, February - November 2008, p. 32, no. 20, illustrated, pp. 47-48, illustrated in color (in installation) (aluminum, ed. 7/8)
West Yorkshire, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Isamu Noguchi at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, July 2008 - May 2009 (bronze, black patina, artist proof 2/2)


Isamu Noguchi, "Meanings in Modern Sculpture," ARTNews 48, no. 1, March 1949, p. 15, illustrated (green slate) (as To The Sunflower)
"Isamu Noguchi Defines the Nature and Enormous Potential Importance of Sculpture - 'The Art of Spaces,'" Interiors 109, March 1949, pp. 118-123 (green slate)
Christopher Fremantle, "New York Commentary," The Studio, July 1949, p. 30, illustrated (green slate) (as To The Sunflower)
Saburo Hasegawa, "Abstract Art in Japan," in American Abstract Artists, Eds., The World of Abstract Art, New York, 1957, p. 70, illustrated (stone) (as Unknown Bird) 
Isamu Noguchi, Isamu Noguchi: A Sculptor's World, New York and Evanston, 1968, p. 73, no. 56, illustrated (green slate) 
James R. Mellow, "The Point of View that Sanctifies," The New York Times, May 5, 1968, p. 7, illustrated (green slate)
"Sculpture by Isamu Noguchi," Japan Architect 48, no. 8, August 1973, p. 16 (aluminum, ed. 4/8)
Wayne Andersen, American Sculpture in Process: 1930/1970, New York, 1975, p. 48, no. 14, illustrated (green slate)
Sam Hunter, Isamu Noguchi, New York, 1978, p. 79 (text) (as Unknown Bird)
Benjamin Forgey, "Isamu Noguchi's Elegant World of Space and Function," Smithsonian 9, April 1978, pp. 46-55 (aluminum, ed. 7/8)
Nancy Grove and Diane Botnick, The Sculpture of Isamu Noguchi 1924-1979, A Catalogue, New York and London, 1980, p. 41 (text), n.p., no. 232B, illustrated (bronze, edition unknown)
Isamu Noguchi, The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum, New York, 1987, p. 230, no. 28a, illustrated (in installation) (green slate) and p. 247, no. 28b, illustrated (in installation) (aluminum, ed. 7/8)
Tim Threlfall, Ph.D., Isamu Noguchi: Aspects of a Sculptor's Practice: A Continuity with Life, Sussex, 1992, p. 188 (text)
Exh. Cat., Tokyo, The National Museum of Modern Art, Isamu Noguchi: Retrospective 1992, 1992, p. 42 illustrated (in installation), p. 64, illustrated (in installation)
Bruce Altshuler, Noguchi, New York, 1994, illustrated in color on the back cover (aluminum)
Diane Apostolos-Cappadona and Bruce Altshuler, Eds., Isamu Noguchi: Essays and Conversations, New York, 1994, p. 34, illustrated (with the artist in his MacDougal Alley studio, New York, 1945) 
Exh. Cat., Monterey, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (and travelling), Noguchi y la Figura, 1999, p. 59 (text); p. 60, no. 32, illustrated (edition unknown); p. 98, no. 15, illustrated (aluminum, ed. 7/8)
Exh. Cat., New York, The Pace Gallery, 50 Years at Pace, 2010, p. 64, illustrated (in installation at The Interlocking Sculpture of Isamu Noguchi, New York, 2003) (aluminum)
Shoji Sadao, Buckminster Fuller and Isamu Noguchi: Best of Friends, New York, 2011, p. 191 (text), p. 193, no. 16, illustrated (green slate, edition unknown)
Hayden Herrera, Listening to Stone: The Art and Life of Isamu Noguchi, New York, 2015, p. 221, illustrated (with the artist in his MacDougal Alley studio, New York, 1945), p. 223 (text), p. 430 (text)


This sculpture is in very good condition. Please contact the Contemporary Art Department at +1 (212) 606-7254 for the report prepared by Jackie Wilson of Wilson Conservation, LLC
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Conceived first in 1945 and later cast in bronze with black patina in 1988, Strange Bird is an outstanding example of Isamu Noguchi’s aesthetic creed. Balanced on a sleek tripedal support, Strange Bird is comprised of a series of bonelike elements whose rounded contours effortlessly interlock with one another. Relying entirely on the principles of tension and suspension to hold these planar slabs in horizontal and vertical equilibrium, Strange Bird exemplifies the technical and creative prowess which established Noguchi as one of the most influential and critically acclaimed sculptors of the 20th century. Indeed, Noguchi’s interlocking sculptures comprise his most celebrated and iconic works; casts of Strange Bird have been exhibited extensively internationally in the most prestigious museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Walker Art Center, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. Of the twelve materials that Noguchi cast in this compositional format, the present work is one of three in bronze with black patina; the other two reside in the esteemed collections of the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and the Locks Foundation. Of the eight examples and two artist's proofs from this edition, many reside in museum collections, such as the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, the Kagawa Museum, and the Noguchi Museum in Japan. Noguchi’s unique abstract visual language draws on the iconography of Surrealist biomorphism, European modernism, and Japanese minimalism, hinting at numerous figurative interpretations while ultimately resisting any singular association. As with Noguchi’s most compelling sculptural compositions, Strange Bird defies narrow characterization. While its title implies an association with movement and flight, Strange Bird’s form more closely resembles the gawky legs and weighty body of a flightless bird, such as an ostrich or an emu. Originally titled To the Sunflower after the verses of William Blake’s ode to a sunflower in 1794, Strange Bird’s elegant vertical planes and open face are also reminiscent of the heliotropic movement of a sunflower, twisting and rising up in its daily effort to capture as much sunlight as possible: ‘Ah, Sunflower! Weary of time / Who countest the steps of the sun / Seeking after that golden sweet clime / Where the traveller’s journey is done.’ Just as the rootedness of the sunflower challenges its ability to capture sunlight, Strange Bird is perhaps an expression of the somewhat oxymoronic and frustrated rootedness of an earthbound bird. Despite suggesting figurative associations, Noguchi expressed that Strange Bird “does not refer descriptively to this form but to the spirit of longing, which I hope it expresses, of Blake’s famous poem.”

First conceived and cast in 1945, Strange Bird emerges from a moment in history in which many artists grappled with how to express in their artwork the physical destruction and psychological devastation in the wake of World War II. In Strange Bird, Noguchi captures with meticulous precision both the profound existential anguish of wartime experience and the fragility of the human psyche. However, Noguchi believed in the human capacity for mental and spiritual transcendence – the capacity for birth, rebirth, and corporeal transformation – and the freedom that this mindset permits. The mid-1940s were also a pivotal period in Noguchi’s artistic career during which he experimented with concept and form and gained prominence in the New York art scene, as testified by his inclusion in the Museum of Modern Art’s influential exhibition Fourteen Americans in 1946.

As a young sculptor working in New York in 1927, Noguchi wrote in his application for a Guggenheim fellowship: “It is my desire to view nature through nature’s eyes, and to ignore man as an object for special veneration. ..Indeed, a fine balance of spirit with matter can only concur when the artist has so thoroughly submerged himself in the study of the unity of nature as to truly become once more part of nature.” (Diane Apostolos-Cappadona and Bruce Altshuler, eds., Isamu Noguchi: Essays and Conversations, New York, 1994, p. 16) The Guggenheim fellowship afforded Noguchi the opportunity to travel to Paris, where he spent six months as an assistant in Constantin Brancusi’s studio. Noguchi’s admiration of the sublime grace and quiet power of Brancusi’s sculptural genius is a clear inspiration for Noguchi’s earliest movement away from realist figuration and toward an abstraction that blended the most natural materials with a primal sensibility. Strange Bird is the quintessential summation of Noguchi’s oeuvre in its expression of his fundamental concern for art’s integration with its surrounding space and for the elimination of the nonessential through formal reduction.