Noguchi sculpture appears in the Rose Garden, Episode #1

How a surprising news story in the US leads us to a Noguchi sculpture, a White House puzzle, and an unexpected update a week later …
Breaking News, Friday Nov 20, 2020

“First Lady Melania Trump is pleased to announce the installation of Floor Frame (1962), by Isamu Noguchi (1904-88). The sculpture will be located on the east terrace of the iconic White House Rose Garden.” (photo above)   [press release on the White House website.]

What? Installing art at the White House, while Donald is still fuming over illegal whatevers?

There was a photo shoot, in the late afternoon sun, on that Friday afternoon.
Melania is cutting a ribbon with Stewart D. McLaurin, president of the White House Historical Association. But it looks like no one else is present except the White House photographer.

The press release continues: “Isamu Noguchi will be the first Asian American artist to be represented in the White House collection. … While powerful in its own right, Floor Frame is humble in scale, and compliments the authority of the Oval Office….
   Floor Frame was gifted to the White House by the White House Historical Association in March of 2020. ”
Aha! We will track down what happened in March and where.

Saturday, Nov 21, Melania unveils a tweet

The First Lady tweets on  @FLOTUS :
“We unveiled Isamu Noguchi’s Floor Frame sculpture in the Rose Garden @WhiteHouse yesterday. The art piece is humble in scale, complements the authority of the Oval Office & represents the important contribution of Asian American artists. ”
She includes four photographs from the Nov 20 shoot.

What happened in March?  The Sotheby’s Auction

Let’s find out more about that acquisition.
On March 6, 2020, Sotheby’s art auction house in New York City sold a sculpture by Isamu Noguchi for $125,000. The sculpture is called Floor Frame. It is:
“bronze, in 2 parts: i. 14 by 40 by 25 1/2 in. ii. 6 1/2 by 6 1/2 by 13 1/2 in.
Executed in 1962, this work is number 1 from an edition of 6.”
Sotheby’s shows the previous ownership history, but does not identify the new successful bidder.

Which Floor Frame is which?

On November 20, the articles in the press, reacting fast to the news releases, used photos of a different casting of  Floor Frame. Apparently they didn’t yet have access to the photos done at the White House on Nov. 20. It seems that the decision to create an “photo event” was a hasty one.

There were 6 castings of Floor Frame done by Noguchi:
in bronze, bronze with a black patina, and bronze with a gold patina.

Noguchi’s “Floor Frame” and the White House Rose Garden – timeline:

• March 6, 2020: Sotheby’s sells Floor Frame casting #1 in bronze 1962, for $125,000.00.
• Not public yet: Floor Frame was purchased by the White House Historical Association, for the White House art collection.
• July 27,  2020: Melania Trump announces that the Rose Garden will be redesigned, in time for the GOP Convention in late August.
• August 22, 2020: The Garden remake is done. One news story drops a hint: “A seating area on the east side of the garden — used at times by presidents for lunch and other meetings — has been removed and will be replaced by a yet-to-be-announced art installation. (AP)”
• September 26, 2020. A gathering (right) to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court became Covid super-spreader.
• October 2, 2020 Trump tests positive to Covid-19. Over the next few days, many more White House attendees test positive.
• Still no sign of the “art installation” on the East Terrace.  Everyone at the White House is busy campaigning.
• November 3 to 23, 2020, the Election, the results, the challenges… It’s a long three weeks.
Friday November 20, 2020, the sculpture Floor Fame by Isamu Noguchi appears on the East Terrace. The photo shoot happens.
• NEWS! Saturday November 28, 2020, Melania posts a surprise on her FLOTUS page on Facebook — a video of the ceremony! “A week ago”, she says. Took a week to put it together, but there it is! Watch it at the end of this post.

Did Melania make a bold selection?

The word “Selected”  caught my eye in the WHHA press release pdf: “November 20, 2020 (Washington, D.C.) – … Selected by First Lady Melania Trump, Isamu Noguchi’s 1962 bronze sculpture “Floor Frame” was unveiled this afternoon in the White House Rose Garden. ”
Did Melania Trump choose the Noguchi sculpture as her contribution to the White House collection?
Did she view it in the Sotheby’s online catalogue and request that the WHHA purchase it?

I am intrigued by this possibility. The choice of Floor Frame is a bold and extraordinary one.
• There is nothing else like it in the White House Art Collection (see examples below).
• It is abstract. It is minimal.
• It is not a table sculpture — it needs floor space, an exterior setting.
• It does not depict an American landscape, or United States history.
• And, it is likely to be considered confrontational by her husband’s  “fan base”.

Who is Isamu Noguchi?

Watch this excellent 3-min video by the Noguchi Museum
on Vimeo
Isamu Noguchi museum video link

Biography from the White House Historical Assoc. on Facebook: “Isamu Noguchi was one of the most innovative and prolific sculptors of the twentieth century. He was born on November 17, 1904 in Los Angeles, California, to an American mother [Léonie Gilmour] and a Japanese father [Yone Noguchi].  …In 1927, after receiving a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, Noguchi traveled to Paris, France to work with sculptor Constantin Brancusi….
During the 1940s, Noguchi returned to stone sculpture as he continued to gain prominence in the art world. He became well known for his use of large stone slabs and for his impact on garden and park landscapes. He designed numerous sculpture gardens, including one for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris. Noguchi’s first retrospective in the United States took place at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1968.
As his sculptures became well-known worldwide, Noguchi earned numerous awards and accolades including the National Medal of Arts, which was awarded by President Ronald Reagan during an East Room ceremony in 1987. In 1985 he opened the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum in Long Island City, New York, a location to display his life’s work. He passed away on December 30, 1988 at the age of eighty-four.”

The White House Art Collection, a quick peek

My personal picks from the White House Art Collection website, clockwise from the left: Childe Hassam, Avenue in the Rain [1917]; Henry Ossawa Tanner, Sandunes at Sunset [c. 1885]; Alma Thomas, Resurrection [1966]; George Bingham, Lighter Relieving a Steamboat Aground (on the Missouri River) [1846-47]; Guy Wiggins, Brooklyn Bridge in Winter [c.1920];  Frederick Remington, The Bronco Buster, bronze [1895]; Gilbert Stuart, Dolley Madison [c.1803]

Breaking news! posted on FB Saturday November 28, 2020,
A Noguchi Ceremony actually happened!

There is a videographer! There are violinists, waist deep in the roses! And magically, attendees here and there!
She’s wearing the same outfit, and the late afternoon sun is the same. So it’s real! Oh, how could I have doubted.

PS: We extracted this from the First Lady’s Facebook page (which is open to the public), so that we could view it here without distraction.

East Enders vs the Republic of China

How a small news story about East-Enders and the Chinese Embassy takes us on a big ride through family history, via the Battle of Cable Street and the mural …

Ron’s late mum Alice Weihs was an honourary East-Ender. She was dubbed “Ellis the Ken-eye-dian” (cockney accent).

She went off to London UK on her own in 1976, for a brief visit — that lasted over 20 years. She got involved with some political east-enders creating a co-op to fix up a derelict apartment block (council flats) just south of St. Katharines Docks. The photo of St. Katharines docks below is from 1963, and still shows rubble from the Blitz of 1940-41.

The flat she fixed up is still in the family. She and Ron and I bought a leasehold in 1989. Ron and I love the flat, the riverside, the East End. So when some unusual news crossed my path, I paid attention.

Breaking News Nov 15, 2020 : The People’s Republic of China has been taken to task by the feisty citizens of Tower Hamlets, in London’s east end.
The situation: China’s plan to convert the former Royal Mint property into their new embassy in London, UK. (See A on a current London map below)

Why does this matter to the East-Enders who live around the corner?

Let’s back up in history a bit.

The East End is known for its extremes in everything: poverty,  pride, resilience and independence.

One defining moment of East-End pride happened on October 4, 1936.  

The British Union of Fascists (BUF), led by Oswald Moseley, planned to show off how strong they were by attacking an “easy” target: the heart of the poorest area of London. They didn’t count on the well-organized resistance from the people who lived and worked there: a mix of radical Orthodox Jews, and radical Irish Catholic dock workers.

On Sunday October 4, 1936, with mounted police protection, the Moseley gang marched in from the west (B on the map).  They met thousands more people than they expected (at A, B, C, and D). Trams were strategically stopped by their drivers.
On Cable Street (D), barricades of pipe, bedsprings, lumber and rubbish blocked the street.  First aid stations had been set up to tend the wounded.

The Fascists did not pass!

This is known as The Battle of Cable Street.

The people of Tower Hamlets are proud of this resistance, and proud that Catholics and Jews fought side-by-side. In the years since 1936, there have been many new arrivals to this area, from Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The area now has the highest number of Muslims than anywhere else in the UK.

So today, the Chinese discrimination against the Uighur Muslims does not sit well with East-Enders of any nation or religion.

1976: The year Alice came to London was also the 40th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street. Some activist east-enders wanted to do something special to commemorate it. Local artist and illustrator Dan Jones suggested that a huge mural of the Battle be created on the wall of St George’s Town Hall on Cable Street. Fundraising began. From Wikipedia: “Planning for the mural began in 1976, when Dan Jones, Secretary of the Tower Hamlets Trades Council,  …[asked] artist, Dave Binnington, to paint a mural in Cable Street…   [who] also recruited Paul Butler to design the lower section. Many of the faces in the mural were inspired by newspaper pictures of people who took part in the battle.” Work on the mural began in 1979, but due to some setbacks, wasn’t completed until 1983.

1983: When Ron first took me to London to meet his mum Alice (1983 or 4), the first thing she did was march us across the street to the “local” on that Sunday afternoon, announcing to all her chums “Here’s me kids!” and introducing us to the publican. Good manners, East-End style.
The next thing we did was walk up to see the Battle of Cable Street mural.  It was the first of many walks to her favourite places. I can’t find any of Ron’s photos. Above is from The Guardian by Martin Goodwin, for the October 2016 commemorations of the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street.

Now back to the Chinese Embassy in the UK and the citizens of Tower Hamlets, and the breaking news, mid-November 2020:

“In a letter seen by The Mail on Sunday [Nov 15], Mr. Liu [China’s Ambassador to the UK] told Mayor John Biggs [mayor to Tower Hamlets]: ‘It is hoped that Tower Hamlets Council will respect the agreement reached between the Chinese and UK governments, resist disruptions and foster sound conditions for the building of the new embassies in our respective embassies.’ ”

A meeting of the Tower Hamlets Council in mid November 2020 resolved:
“to write to the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China based in the United Kingdom….  to cease its human rights’ abuses against the Uyghur Muslims and all other detainees….
… to engage Hong Kong’s people, institutions and judiciary to prevent further erosion of the rights and freedoms…. We in Tower Hamlets welcome residents of Hong Kong who wish to take advantage of their now increased ability to move to the United Kingdom.”

My favourite bit is the parting shot of the Committee resolutions:
“The Borough [of Tower Hamlets] has a long and proud history of
being the first home in the UK for many people

fleeing persecution in their original countries.
And that those earlier arrivals are now British citizens.”

the other side of the story – remember the Opium Wars  

Future London embassy’s link to era of Chinese ‘humiliation and sorrow’

China acquired the historic Royal Mint site in London in 2018 for its new diplomatic mission —
Site has historic significance: it took delivery of tonnes of silver that China was forced to pay Britain in the 19th century.