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Case-2: Small bench

Case-2: Small bench
© Keio University

This Step looks at restoration measures (carried out in 2007) for the Benches (Small) in the Ex-Noguchi Room designed by Isamu Noguchi.

Benches Benches by Isamu Noguchi (Photo: Takeshi Taira, source: Keio University Art Center)

From September 20, 2007 to May 25, 2008, there was an exhibition entitled “Design: Isamu Noguchi and Isamu Kenmochi” at the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum in New York, and six pieces of Isamu Noguchi’s furniture from the Ex-Noguchi Room were shown. When we received a request to exhibit at this show from the museum in 2006, the furniture was damaged, so restoration was carried out to enable loaning of the furniture in a safe condition. Of all the works loaned, we will focus here on restoration of Benches (Small).

Restoration process

First, a detailed survey was carried out of the work’s materials, dimensions, and condition. The survey showed that the wood used in the piece is ash (Fraxinus platypoda Oliv.), and the cord wrapped around the backrest part is made of rushes. Rattan is used for the seat mats. There was grime covering the entire work. There were large scratches and missing parts on the elliptical wood pieces on the sides of the backrests. The backrest cord was also partially damaged. After dry cleaning of the surface, grime and stains were washed off using a 5% aqueous solution of citric acid. The missing sections of the wood parts were repaired with wood (zelkova). Zelkova was used instead of ash because ash is difficult to obtain today. For the cord, we procured rush cord, exposed the rush to the sun to match the feeling of the existing material, and then the hue was adjusted with solvent-based acrylic paint as a final finish.

Before, after restoration Before restoration (top), after restoration (bottom) © Keio University Art Center

Wood part of backrest Wood part of backrest, before restoration (left), repair of missing part (center), after restoration (right) © Keio University Art Center

rattan mat Cleaning of rattan mat © Keio University Art Center

Cord part of backrest Cord part of backrest, before restoration (left), midway through restoration (center), after restoration (right) © Keio University Art Center

Points discovered through restoration

New discoveries were made in the process of restoration. First, we learned about the materials used. As noted above, it was found that the cord of the backrest part is made of rushes, and that ash was used not only for the benches, but for the entire interior including the furniture and floor. These materials were in wide general use in Japan in the 1950s when the Noguchi Room was created, but at present are hard to obtain. The issue goes beyond just materials. Noguchi’s works employed techniques used for furniture production in Japan at the time, such as mat braiding. When Noguchi was in Japan producing his works, he was provided with studio space and materials by the National Research Institute of Industrial Arts (the name changed to the Industrial Art Institute in 1952), and he interacted with the designer Isamu Kenmochi(1912-1971)who was head of the institute’s First Research Section. In this way, materials and techniques used in Japanese furniture production of that era were “archived” in the Noguchi Room, which Noguchi worked on intensively while in Japan in 1950.

Through a measurement survey during restoration, it was also found that the backrest and seat parts of the Benches have complex curves, and the three legs of the Round Stools all have slightly different forms. Noguchi’s furniture pieces have complex forms that cannot be reconstructed from the extant drawings alone.

These detailed surveys and restorations have revealed more clearly the characteristics of Isamu Noguchi’s design which employs materials and techniques distinctive of Japan.

report1 Click to take a closer look

report2 Click to take a closer look
Record of the condition of Benches (Small) © Keio University Art Center

References

  • Isamu Kenmochi, “Isamu Noguchi at the National Research Institute of Industrial Arts” (in Japanese), Kogei News (Industrial Arts News), October 1950
  • Hitoshi Mori, “Isamu Noguchi in the Film Archive of the Japan Industrial Arts Foundation — The National Research Institute of Industrial Arts and the Creative Activities of Noguchi” (in Japanese), Keio University Art Center, Booklet 13: Architectural Space as Memory — Isamu Noguchi / Yoshiro Taniguchi / Keio, Keio University Art Center, 2005
  • Yasuaki Miyazaki (Art Restoration Studio 21) “Restoration Report (Benches (Small) by Isamu Noguchi)” (in Japanese), June 2007
  • Yoko Watanabe (Activity Report) “Keio Collections Research and Preservation Activities — Restoration Relating to the Noguchi Room (Banraisha)” (in Japanese), Keio University Art Center Annual Report, No. 15, 2008, pp. 65–69.
  • Yoko Watanabe “Moving from Memory to Creation — Through Restoration of the Noguchi Room” (in Japanese), Digital Archives — Their Inheritance and Evolution, Keio University Digital Archive, Research Center Report (2006–2009), March 31, 2009, pp. 181–186.

*The restoration measures presented in this Step were carried out by Art Restoration Studio 21 Y.K.

© Keio University
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Invitation to Ex-Noguchi Room: Preservation and Utilization of Cultural Properties in Universities

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