New York State Capitol
Governor's Reception Room, 2nd Floor
May 2, 2022 - May 27, 2022
The great State of New York became a central leader in the art world as a result of World War II, when artists fled their countries and settled in New York City. Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller wanted to highlight New York’s role in this historic period and acquired works of art made predominantly by artists living or working in New York City throughout the 1950s to 1970s. This time capsule of art - a collection consisting of 92 works known as the Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza Art Collection - remains on permanent display throughout the Empire State Plaza complex.
In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islanders Heritage Month, this exhibit celebrates two artists from the collection and highlights how their East Asian heritage helped shape postwar American art. The works of Isamu Noguchi and Kenzo Okada combine their Eastern stylistic influences, sensitivity, and motifs with Western materials and culture, resulting in what is now regarded as some of the most prolific and critically acclaimed art of the century.
Original artwork by both artists can be viewed on the Concourse level of the Empire State Plaza.
Studies for the Sun are smaller scale studies made from travertine, iron, and bronze. The 3 sculptures are studies for Noguchi’s finalized Sun sculpture in the public garden he designed for Yale University.
When he worked on Studies of the Sun, Noguchi stated that he was attempting to find a type, shape, or look of the sun that was both harmonious and disharmonious in order to create a feeling of energy buzzing around the circular shape.
Noguchi’s Sunken Garden design at Yale University was influenced by the ancient palazzos of Italy and Japanese contemplation gardens. Three white marble sculptures make up the garden: a sun, a pyramid, and a cube.
Inspired by Japanese concepts of Zen Buddhism, Noguchi believed the sun was both the source of life and a symbol of nothingness; he said, “the circle is zero, the decimal zero, or the zero of nothingness from which we come, to which we return.”
Purchased from Betty Parsons Gallery in 1970 for accession into the Empire State Plaza Art Collection, Hagoromo (1964) is an exceptional example of melding an Eastern and Western approach to art.
The painting, named after one of the most beloved traditional 13th century Japanese Noh plays (“hagoromo” meaning “the feather robe”), exemplifies what Japanese playwright Zeami called the essence of Noh: “to unite high and low, and bring joy to the hearts of the people.” Noh became a literary treasure, and a multi-art form combining architecture, drama,102120 poetry, music, masks, costumes, and dance. Each art form is in an archaic and essential form held together as a whole by energy and silence.
The dance component of a Noh play is abstracted and one of pure forms, like the universe framing dimensions of complete possibility.
In the play, a fisherman is walking with his companions at night when he finds the hagoromo, a magical feather-mantle of a tennin (a Buddhist spiritual being) hanging on a bough. The tennin sees the fisherman taking the hagoromo and demands its return, as she cannot return to heaven without it. The fisherman argues with her, and finally promises to return it, if she will show him her dance. She accepts his offer. The play’s chorus explains that the dance is symbolic of the daily changes of the moon. In the finale, the tennin disappears like a mountain slowly hidden in mist.