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Object Lessons: Noguchi’s Iconic Akari Lights

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Object Lessons: Noguchi’s Iconic Akari Lights

September 9, 2014

“Everything is a sculpture,” said Isamu Naguchi, who put this belief into practice with his Akari lighting collection. Born in the US to a Japanese father and an American mother, he studied with modernist sculptor Constantin Brí¢ncusi in Paris for two years in the 1920s before returning to the States to design stage sets for Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham. By the time he produced the iconic Noguchi table for Herman Miller in 1947, he had already become a distinguished sculptor in his own right. When traveling in Japan in 1951, he was asked to create a paper lamp for export to help revitalize the paper manufacturing industry there. His Akari (meaning “brightness” in Japanese) Light Sculptures are Noguchi’s modernist response to lanterns used by night fishermen in Japan and represent the traditional form stripped down to its bones, all color and extraneous detail discarded. Because the designs were made of little more than rice paper and wire, they were inexpensive to produce and affordable. Ozeki & Co. in Gifu, Japan, has been manufacturing them by hand since 1951–the lamps are packed flat for easy shipping.

A large Noguchi Akari light can make a big yet serene statement. See Five Quick Fixes: Oversize Noguchi Lanterns. Photograph from Sensuous Simplicity for the Thinking Woman: La Garçonne in NYC.
Above: A large Noguchi Akari light can make a big yet serene statement. See Five Quick Fixes: Oversize Noguchi Lanterns. Photograph from Sensuous Simplicity for the Thinking Woman: La Garçonne in NYC.

Five to Buy

The Globe Akari Lantern is available in five sizes ranging from data-src=
Above: The Globe Akari Lantern is available in five sizes ranging from 12 by 12 inch ($160) to 47 by 46 inch ($1,335), from the Noguchi Museum, in Long Island City, New York, which carries the full line of Akari designs. Note that because the designs ship flat, basic assembly is required.
The Noguchi Floor Lamp Model UF3-Q, 57 inches tall and
Above: The Noguchi Floor Lamp Model UF3-Q, 57 inches tall and 22 inches wide, is $525 at Zinc Details.
The statuesque Akari Floor Lamp Model UF4-Jdata-src=
Above: The statuesque Akari Floor Lamp Model UF4-J1 is 76 inches tall and 18 inches wide; $750 at the Noguchi Museum.
Nest Noguchi Akari Table Lamp Above: The compact Akari XP1 Table Lamp is small enough, at 38 centimeters tall and 22 centimeters wide, to fit on almost any table; £150.83 at Nest in the UK. The XP1 Table Lamp is $105 at the Noguchi Museum.
The Noguchi Lamp 3A is
Above: The Noguchi Lamp 3A is 22 inches tall and 11 inches wide; it’s available at Surrounding for $370. Canoe in Portland, Oregon, carries a similar light, the Akari Lamp 7A, for $300.

Object Lessons columnist Megan Wilson is the owner of Ancient Industries and curator of the Remodelista 100, a collection of essential everyday objects presented in the Remodelista book. Watch for her column every Tuesday, and have a look at her past lessons on iconic designs, including the Eames Lounge Chair and Kaj Franck’s Teema Dinnerware. We featured her Connecticut shop in our post Purveyor of the Practical and the Timeless.

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