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. https://archive.noguchi.org/Detail/artwork/6124
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. ” whitehousehistory.org/press-room
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
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 ; Henry Ossawa Tanner, Sandunes at Sunset [c. 1885]; Alma Thomas, Resurrection ; 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 ; 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.