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Toshiko Takaezu: World’s Within

May 10, 2024

The Isamu Noguchi Museum in New York presents Toshiko Takaezu: Worlds Within, a major retrospective of the ground-breaking abstract artist (1922-2011) from Hawaii, most celebrated for her masterful “closed form” ceramic vessels.

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Toshiko Takaezu: Worlds Within is the first nationally touring retrospective of the Hawaiian-born artist of Japanese Heritage, in over 20-years. Organized by The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum with assistance from the Toshiko Takaezu Foundation and the Takaezu family, the exhibition is co-curated by art historian Glenn Adamson, Noguchi Museum Curator Kate Wiener, and composer and sound artist Leilehua Lanzilotti. The exhibition extends throughout the museum and features over 200 works from public and private collections.

Born in 1922, Toshiko Takaezu was an artist of multiple talents, whose work defied boundaries or easy categorization. While best known for her closed form ceramic vessels onto which she applied layers of abstract glazes and painterly brushstrokes, Takaezu also made weavings, paintings, and bronze-cast sculptures, and made work for the indoors as well as outdoors. Her closed vessels were made in a range of sizes from a small, hand-held piece to a monumental monolith like sculpture that went over her head. She often presented these various artworks together in unique environments that she constructed and the exhibition re-creates several of these. Ceramics placed on sling-like hammocks or onto tufted weavings, for example show her depth of talent and the intricate relationships in her work between texture, materials and colours.

Worlds Within traces the work and life of Takaezu, who studied at the University of Hawaii before attending the Cranbrook Academy to study with Finnish ceramic artist and teacher, Maija Grotell. During this time, she also studied textile design with Marianne Strengell.  She also taught at the Cleveland Institute of Art and Princeton University. Early works of functional tableware sit in dialogue with immersive installations of large-scale ceramics made in the late 1990s-early 2000s, showing the wide range of her artistic output.

The title of the exhibition, Worlds Within, is tied to the artist’s assertion that the most important aspect of her closed forms is “the dark space that you can’t see” — the hidden worlds within. As exhibition co-curator Glenn Adamson comments, “It is particularly fitting to present Takaezu’s work at The Noguchi Museum, founded by another artist who ranged across genres and mediums, and had a powerful sense of how art could shape time and space. Her ceramics, weavings, paintings, and sheer presence will be extraordinarily resonant in the austerely beautiful surroundings of the galleries and garden.”

Sound is woven into the exhibition and serves as an extension of the fact sound was an important part of Takaezu’s work, with many of her closed ceramic forms containing unseen rattles. Composer, sound artist and exhibition co-curator Leilehua Lanzilotti, developed a concert series, and video installation about the hidden element of sound in Takaezu’s work. Lanzilotti writes, “It is a joy to illuminate the hidden sonic landscapes of Takaezu’s closed forms through my involvement both as an artist and a co-curator on this project. On a personal note, having grown up around Takaezu’s work at The Contemporary Museum in Honolulu, I’m honoured to respond to her closed forms with this series of multimedia and musical works for the exhibition. Bringing my own perspective as a Kanaka Maoli artist to the colours and textures that inspired Takaezu as a child, I hope these additions to the exhibition inspire viewers to meet her work with childlike wonder and curiosity.”

The exhibition will travel to several additional venues across the United States. Planned venues include the Cranbrook Art Museum (September 27, 2024–January 12, 2025), the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (March 2–May 18, 2025), the Chazen Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin-Madison (September 8–December 23, 2025), and the Honolulu Museum of Art (February 13–July 26, 2026).

In addition to the travelling exhibition, a comprehensive monograph edition has been published by The Noguchi Museum and Yale University Press, with texts by Adamson, Dakin Hart, and Kate Wiener, along with nine additional essays and extensive reproductions of her work – archival images and contemporary photographs.

Toshiko Takaezu: Worlds Within is on view at The Noguchi Museum through July 28th, 2024.

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Toshiko Takaezu, Installation of Worlds Within, Noguchi Museum, New York, Photo: Nicholas Knight. Courtesy The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum.
Toshiko Takaezu, Installation of Worlds Within, Noguchi Museum, New York, Photo: Nicholas Knight. Courtesy The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum.
Toshiko Takaezu, Installation of Worlds Within, Noguchi Museum, New York, Photo: Nicholas Knight. Courtesy The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum.
Toshiko Takaezu, Installation of Worlds Within, Noguchi Museum, New York, Photo: Nicholas Knight. Courtesy The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum.
Toshiko Takaezu, Installation of Worlds Within, Noguchi Museum, New York, Photo: Nicholas Knight. Courtesy The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum.
Toshiko Takaezu, Installation of Worlds Within, Noguchi Museum, New York, Photo: Nicholas Knight. Courtesy The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum.
Toshiko Takaezu with closed forms, 1989. Photo: Charlotte Raymond. Toshiko Takaezu papers, circa 1925–2010. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. © Family of Toshiko Takaezu
Toshiko Takaezu, Installation of Worlds Within, Noguchi Museum, New York, Photo: Nicholas Knight. Courtesy The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum.
4.1.1 Toshiko Takaezu with Star Series works, Photo Tom Grotta
Toshiko Takaezu, Closed Form, 2004. Porcelain, 19 1/2 x 11 in. (49.5 x 27.9 cm). Private Collection. Photo: Nicholas Knight. Courtesy The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum. © Family of Toshiko Takaezu
Toshiko Takaezu, Double Spouted Vase, c.1957, Stoneware, 14×14×73/4in.(35.6×35.6×19.7cm), Pier S. Voulkos and Daniel R. Peters Trust
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