May 22, 2016


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Lot 184: Isamu Noguchi

Lot 184: Isamu Noguchi

Chess Table

Designed 1944-1947
Model no. IN-61
Herman Miller
19" x 26.25" x 26.5"
Literature: Design 1935-1965: What Modern Was. M. Eidelberg. 1991. 107.
Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000
Price Realized: $137,500
Inventory Id: 22183

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Rarely are art and design so seamlessly resolved in one object as they are in Isamu Noguchi's Chess Table, arguably the acclaimed sculptor's finest piece as a designer. It is a seminal work in the development of organic modernism, which became an American design hallmark in the mid-twentieth century. For many aficionados and collectors, the Noguchi Chess Table is the most admired and coveted design of the period.

Working in his Greenwich Village studio in 1944, Noguchi (1904–1988) created the table for the art exhibition "Imagery of Chess," organized by Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst. Though Alexander Calder and Man Ray were also contributors, a Newsweek critic described Noguchi's entry as "the most beautiful piece in the show." Architect and writer George Nelson, who would become design director of the Herman Miller Furniture Company, purchased the original table.

In 1947, Nelson persuaded Herman Miller to put two Noguchi designs into production: the Chess Table and his now-iconic glass-topped coffee table with an articulated wooden base. First offered in 1949, the Chess Table was also marketed as a coffee table. Rather than a grid of squares, Noguchi devised the playing surface as an 8 x 8 arrangement of red wax dots and inset acrylic discs to save the table from exclusive association with the game. The tabletop swivels open to reveal a cast aluminum tray with shaped hollows, which can be used to store chess pieces or other sundries. Herman Miller did not manufacture many of the Chess Tables. By one reckoning, fewer than a dozen examples still exist today.

The biomorphic elements that compose the Chess Table—the curved and flowing top, legs and tray—are just as striking and surprising now as when they were created. Throughout his career, Noguchi espoused a conviction that the everyday design objects we live with should enrich us just as much as art. The Chess Table was, perhaps, his most elegant demonstration of that belief.

Vegesack, Alexander Von., Katarina V. Posch, Jochen Eisenbrand, and Robert Wilson. Isamu Noguchi: Sculptural Design. Weil Am Rhein: Vitra Design Museum, 2001. Print. Eidelberg, Martin P., David M. Stewart, Liliane Stewart, and Kate Carmel. Design 1935-1965: What Modern Was. Montréal: Harry N. Abrams, 1991. Print. Klyber, Troy. "We've Got Game." The Art Institute of Chicago. 14 Sept. 2011. Web. 01 Apr. 2016.